There are many ways to spread kindness into life. Most people remember the direct ways, like doing things for people or offering them a compliment, but there are also the indirect ways. Since people are experiencing what they’re thinking about, changing how someone thinks is to change how they feel.
Parents do this with their kids all the time. You’ve seen it. The kid is screaming about something, and then the parent introduces something new to bait the consciousness of the kid. Hopefully it’s not a threat or a gift, because if that happens too often that person will end up unhealthy. But if it’s an experience then it can be expansive.
So there’s the screaming kid at the grocery store, and the parent says, Do you want ride your bike this weekend with the adults, on the adult trails? And the kid starts thinking about that and they switch from anger to excited in no time. So why don’t we do that as adults? Adults actually argue with you to hold on to the idea that’s painful to them. Don’t try to change the subject on me! (Even though all the discussion in the world wouldn’t fix anything.)
You don’t want these efforts to feel forceful. It’s not some wedge of distraction you hammer into a conversation, but if you’re truly listening the way we all should–very intently and with no other purpose than listening–then you will find yourself struck with opportunities to turn the conversation toward something more enjoyable. It’s your nature. The trick will be getting out of its way.
If humans were designed to tune to negativity we never would have made it out of our first cave. We’d have been too scared. But instead we’re tuned for possibility. We see opportunities. So if you give someone an opportunity for positivity, well, that’s like bait to a fish. Eventually they’ll bite. And if you’re a patient fisherperson who doesn’t try to force the hook in, then you might find that you can succeed on your first try.
Today in the March of Kindness you want to listen carefully to the overall tone of a conversation. If it’s angry or sad or defeatist, listen intently and a natural response will occur to you that would pull the conversation toward something more pleasant and more productive. If you do it well people shouldn’t even notice that you did it.
That’s all that happy people do. When someone shoots them a ball of negativity, they gracefully give them back an easy play on a winning shot. You abandon the subject of their conversation and you focus instead on the tone only. You don’t argue any point, you simply offer a route to something more enjoyable.
You might have to offer it three times if they’re really upset, but eventually everyone would rather pedal their bike on a downslope. Just don’t listen with an agenda. Patiently listen and what to say or do will occur to you. Trust it. Your doubts are only made of thinking.
This is a very subtle form of kindness, and yet once you’re good at this it will be the one you’ll get to use the most. The sheer subtlety of it means it faces less resistance and it gets better results. So join the rest of us today and find some silver linings and help some others notice them too. Because in the end, we’re all in this life thing together.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.