Double Helix Double Helix News Series

Stemming the tide of hatred with kindness, and finding ‘life itself’

Kindness needs to be tended to continue to grow.

(RNS) John Fuller recently made a monthlong effort to never utter a negative word to or about his wife, a busy mom he sometimes took for granted.

For a similar period, Katie Phillips found something positive to say about her 7-year-old son, with whom she had a “prickly relationship.”

And Christine King performed acts of kindness for an irritating co-worker.

Kindness — a virtue embraced by both the religious and the nonreligious — requires intentional behavior and can have beneficial results for both the giver and recipient of a benevolent act, experts say.

But, don’t we know that already? Aren’t most of us already kind?

We’d like to think so, said Phillips, an Atlanta-area mother of five, who took a “30-Day Kindness Challenge” earlier this year.

“But when you actually stop and think, ‘OK, what am I actively doing to please my child?'” said the woman who leads an adoption ministry at her church.

“‘How can I find little ways to make them happy, make their day, let them know I’m thinking about them?’” she added. “You’re really humbled because you think, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t do this nearly as often as I thought I did.’”

Some of the available resources to encourage kindness: “The Kindness Challenge” by Shaunti Feldhahn, “Your Next 24 Hours” by Hal Donaldson, and Parade magazine’s cover story on kindness.

In recent months, Christian authors — as well as Parade magazine — have highlighted step-by-step processes to help readers learn how to be kind. Though organizations like the World Kindness Movement and the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation have encouraged altruism since the 1990s, more recent studies by scientists back up its benefits.

“People are longing for kindness,” said relationship researcher Shaunti Feldhahn, author of “The Kindness Challenge: Thirty Days to Improve Any Relationship.”

“Everybody likes living with a kind home, with a kind church, with a kind school and with kind neighbors.”

So she created daily goals for how to treat a friend, loved one or colleague: Say nothing negative, say something affirming and be generous to them in some small way. Feldhahn found that 89 percent of relationships improved when people took those steps for a month.

“They had trained themselves in purposeful kindness,” she said.

Convoy of Hope President Hal Donaldson has similar goals for a “revolution of kindness,” but for strangers as well as acquaintances.

Hal Donaldson, president of Convoy of Hope and author of “Your Next 24 Hours.” Photo courtesy of Convoy of Hope

“Hatred has just seized the headlines and anger is marching through the streets of our nation,” said Donaldson, author of “Your Next 24 Hours: One Day of Kindness Can Change Everything.”

“If we’re going to stem the tide of hatred and conflict, it’s not going to be through more hatred and conflict. It’s going to be through kindness.”

Donaldson knows about the benefits of kindness firsthand. His father was killed and his mother was seriously injured when they were hit by a drunken driver when he was 12. A family of four took in his family of six, sharing a single-wide trailer while their mother recovered. He and his brothers went on to found a Christian charity that mobilizes volunteers to help the poor.

But he has also worked on his own level of kindness — first for 24 hours and then trying to make it a way of life — from “being kind to a waiter to opening a door to jotting a note to a friend who I knew was going through a tough time.”

He made that plan after reading Proverbs 21:21: “Whoever goes hunting for what is right and kind finds life itself.”

Jamie Wamsley of The Chapel in Chicago. Photo courtesy of The Chapel

Donaldson’s organization has distributed more than 20,000 copies of his book to churches, including The Chapel, a suburban evangelical megachurch in Chicago that focused on its lessons for three weekends starting on Easter Sunday.

Jamie Wamsley, associate senior pastor at The Chapel, sees the steps toward kindness as an antidote to the frightening headlines about the state of the world — laden with concerns about financial insecurity, race relations and military action.

“I think a lot of people are scared, and kindness, in the face of fear — kindness is a rare form of courage that really has the capacity, I think, to transform people’s perspectives and to profoundly help them,” he said.

A growing body of scientific evidence backs up the notion that kindness has benefits for a happier and perhaps even healthier life.

Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky. Photo courtesy of Josh Blanchard

“People become happier over time when they are prompted to do more acts of kindness,” said Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside.

She and other researchers conducted a “Kindness in the blood” study involving finger-prick blood tests of three groups that did specific acts of kindness (for the world, for others or for themselves) and a neutral control group. They discovered that acts of kindness for other individuals prompted improved immune cell molecular profiles, involving stronger antiviral activity and less inflammation.

Other scientists have linked kindness to boosts in hormones such as oxytocin, which can lower blood pressure, and endorphins, which produce positive feelings.

But there also can be downsides to kindness, from being labeled a “pushover,” as Inc.com columnist Jessica Stillman wrote, to inadvertently aiding a disreputable cause.

“Don’t allow your generosity to be exploited and your good intentions to be thwarted,” writes Donaldson. “There are too many people who really need your help.”

And then there’s the century-old example from Jerome K. Jerome’s “The Cost of Kindness,” in which members of a fictional congregation despised their cleric, who had an “inborn instinct of antagonism to everybody and everything surrounding him,” but parishioners were so kind to him at his farewell ceremony that he canceled his plans to leave the church.

John Fuller of Focus on the Family. Photo courtesy of Sally Dunn

But kindness, in real life, can be thought of as a personal goal.

Fuller said his acts of benevolence — doing more household chores — for one loved one caused a “spillover,” where he now pays more attention to being kind to others in his life.

“It’s sort of like if I’m out of shape physically, I’ve got to start exercising,” said Fuller, who is a co-host on Focus on the Family’s “Daily Broadcast” show. “I became aware that I’ve got to be more proactive and more intentional with my good words.”

King, a former marketer who worked at the Hearts at Home ministry, said she learned the difference between being nice and being kind as she improved communications with her colleague by complimenting her more and complaining less.

“We all know that you should say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and hold the door,” she said. “Being kind is putting the other person before you and making an effort not to think the worst of them.”

Although kindness plans are often focused on individuals, group efforts have reaped rewards too.

Author Shaunti Feldhahn speaks at a Hearts at Home conference. Photo courtesy of Crown Publishing Group

Christ the Word Church in Rolesville, N.C., did its own “random acts of kindness” initiative last year by distributing more than $2,000 in gift cards to customers at local businesses.

“The people involved still speak of our experience of witnessing what a simple act of kindness can affect a person,” said the Rev. Patrick Cherry. “So often the seemingly ‘random’ act of kindness revealed people’s hidden pain, giving further weight to the old adage ‘You never know what someone is hiding behind a smile.’”

Feldhahn, who has taken her challenge to Christian conferences and secular corporations, said transformation in behavior comes as people turn their attention on themselves instead of trying to change others. She thinks the kindness steps could be applied in social media — and hopes grass-roots people might use them there to bridge divides with government public figures of opposing viewpoints.

“When you are kind to someone, you find yourself caring about them more,” she said. “You can disagree, but you stop being disagreeable about it because you care about them.”

A DNA strand next to the title of the series.

These stories are part of a series on science and religion, brought to you with support from the John Templeton Foundation. Opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation. (RNS logo, John Templeton Foundation logo}

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.

25 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • I wholeheartedly recommend this
    article to the Democrat Party, Isis, Kim Jong Fat Boy, and all of the misotheists and the various schools of resentment that haunt these threads.

  • Nothing new in this article that wasn’t taught 2000 years ago. The Apostle Paul said in Ephesians 4:32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted…” Kindness is a Christian virtue that set Christians apart from the middle eastern cultures of that period. Having said that, I appreciated the article and recommend it to you, as well.

  • “If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you..” Proverbs 25:22

  • I really liked the Random Acts of Kindness Initiative and think it worthwhile emulating. Provided an opportunity for kindness to be potentially understood on a deeper level.

  • As you have reminded me, Jesus was Jewish. Kindness was a Jewish virtue before Jesus was born.

  • It is appalling that you put ISIS and Kim Jond Un in the same sentence as the Democrats. Most Democrats are religious. Democrats care about everyone. They don’t need to be lectured on kindness. My religion teaches me to care about the poor.

    The majority of Americans voted for Hillary Clinton, so that makes the majority of Americans “monotheists’. I think you spelled that wrong.

  • Well no question of that. Christians accept the OT as fully inspried as the NT. And no question the OT teaches the virtue of kindness. But Jesus is God the Son and is the Lamb slain before the foundations of the world.

  • Sounds like somebody has a guilty conscience.
    I didn’t know you were The Democratic Party.
    I don’t believe democrats care for everyone. They don’t care about what conservative Christians believe. And the atheists and democrats here demonstrate that vividly. Democrats care about power – just like Repubs and every other political party. Except most repubs don’t believe in same sex marriage or abortion. And in that sense they are more palatable than democrats.

  • Yes, they care, but Conservative Christians want to impose their beliefs on everyone else. The denomination of Judaism I belong to marries lesbian and gay couples and accepts Gays and Lesbians as rabbis and cantors. If you don’t like it, you can’t impose your views on us. What about our right to religious liberty? You don’t care about that. You only care about liberty for your side.

    I would feel guilty if I voted for Trump, who has turned out worse than I thought he would.

  • But of course the Republican Party gets a pass – none of them need to read this article – since they are in the process of being KIND enough to strip the nation’s poor and middle classes of their healthcare, so that they can be KIND to their wealthy cronies by KINDly gifting them with corresponding huge tax breaks. Let KINDness reign – especially Republican KINDness!!!

  • Then you are Jewish-lite, like many so-called “progressive” Christians. They are Christian-lite. You want religion but only on your terms. Liberal Christians want the same thing with Christianity. Moses would have a stroke if he saw your apostasy as he would if he saw the progressive liberal Christian apostasy.

  • People a lot smarter and more educated than me have explained why this is not Jewish Lite. Besides it is not on my terms. It is three denominations of Judaism. that practice this. Moses would come down and and find our interpretation interesting. He may not agree, but he wouldn’t have a stroke.

    You avoided my question though. What about our right to practice our religion?

  • Practice whatever you like. Nobody called into question your right to do so. Check out what Moses prescribed for those who violated Jewish Law.

  • The Dems pander to one market, the Repubs to another. That’s all politics is. It’s understandable for inexperienced young people to be naive about this, but there’s no excuse for anyone to reach middle age with head still in the clouds of moral narcissism.

  • You want to outlaw Gay and Lesbian marriages and abortion. I went to a Bar Mitzvah this past week. The boy had two fathers. He was a great kid and he did a great job. If it was up to you this would never happen.

  • Nothing wrong with getting rid of bad law. Those issues should belong to the states. Both of those practices (for want of a better word) are perversions of God’s plan for people. Both abortion and homosexual sexual behaviors are nothing more than recycled pagan practices absent the religious component. You practice them at the peril of eternal separation from a holy God. THE OT TEACHES THAT.

  • The law’s purpose is to uphold the constitution, not the Bible.
    I happen to support sex within marriage for everyone. I don’t think that believing that separates me from God. You have much too narrow view of what you call the OT. You are a literalist.

  • Words mean things. You cannot escape what the Bible says. God is unchanging (Mal. 3:6 For I am the Lord, I do not change…)
    Isaiah 59:2 But your iniquities have made a separation between
    you and your God,
    and your sins have hidden His face from you
    so that He will not hear.

    Jeremiah 18:15 Because My people have forgotten Me, they have burned incense to vain gods and they have stumbled in their ways from the ancient paths, to walk in bypaths, not on a highway,

    Jeremiah 6:16Modern English Version (MEV)
    16 Thus says the Lord

    Stand in the ways and see,
    and ask for the old paths
    where the good way is and walk in it,
    and you shall find rest for your souls.
    But they said, “We will not walk in it.”

    You cannot escape the Hound of Heaven. You have abandoned the Living God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. If you believe what the Torah says you must repent of your sin and seek His forgiveness.

  • No, I have not; Reread your Bible. God changes throughout what you call the OT. Certainly, his knowledge of humanity changes. I can read the Bible. I don’t need your lectures. The Rabbis have always believed that the literal words of the Bible is only the first level of interpretation.

  • Nope. It doesn’t work on those who truly are enemies and who will see such kindness as a weakness, and laugh, and work from within to enable further “evil”. Now there are obviously those who may have some ideology that they mindlessly follow, who can be swayed to betterment if shown kindness and fair treatment. For those with an agenda, either openly displayed, or hidden, such “redemption is lfar less likely. We as a species have reaped the “”rewards” of being kind to those who will never return it, and will be the worm in the apple at every turn. Where are the rewards from the Lord then? They seem either fleeting, or non-existent. be kind, most definitely, but don’t be a doormat. Extend the hand of peace and helpfulness, but be wise enough to know when the seeds you have scattered have fallen on ground that will never produce anything that isn’t toxic. I don’t think God meant for us to be stupid There is a time and place for all things. We’ve become so “PC” and afraid to actually stand against people and processes that are toxic for fear that someone might get their feelings hurt. Be kind. Show compassion. Be wise enough to know when kindness no longer works and firmness must become a priority. That doesn’t mean that kindness can never become an option again. it should always be an option. Kindness should possibly come from a place of strength. A choice. To choose to do the right thing because one can, not because one must.

  • Not sure what you meant by “Nope”. I didn’t say anything…..I just cited Scripture. What am I “nope” about? Otherwise I ‘think’ I agree with you comment. Maybe a little long winded for me, but I think I get your point.

ADVERTISEMENTs