Practice kindness this holiday season

By Beth Caron

What does a high school girl’s act of kindness have to do with world peace? Nothing, maybe, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

If you’re a follower of this blog, you know that kindness is a big deal at Great Clips. It’s one of our values—actually, it’s the first value on our list of values, and that’s on purpose. We believe that if we’re not kind, nothing else really matters. Here’s how we describe the behaviors that support kindness:

  • Treat others the way you would like to be treated.
  • Be humble and act honorably.
  • Express gratitude.
  • Respect and value everyone’s role in our company’s success – home Office employees, franchisees, managers and stylists. Support each other’s success.

That’s what we at Great Clips strive for in all of our relationships related to our workplaces: to display acts of kindness with customers, stylists, managers and franchisees, and with everyone who works at the corporate office. As Great Clips CEO Rhoda Olsen says, “It’s simply the right thing to do.”

But, it may not always be the easiest thing to do. As 2015 comes to a close, the world is a troubled place. Violence abroad and at home, political divisions and hateful rhetoric all contribute to an atmosphere tinged with uncertainty and fear, just when many spiritual traditions celebrate what is supposed to be a season of peace.

What can one person do? The problems seem beyond the influence of world leaders—let alone an individual like you and me.

But we can contribute. Here’s how: Practice kindness daily.

I know, I know, it sounds trite. And how does an act of kindness in Minnesota, or Iowa, or Texas or North Carolina make a difference in the world, especially when it feels that world peace is above our pay scale. But I do believe that if we start by concentrating on our own lives and circles of influence, we can make a difference.

Want proof? I found an example from YouTube—an audition from “Britain’s Got Talent.”

As judge Simon Cowell (the dark prince of anti-kindness) mutters “Just when you think things can’t get any worse…,” a teenage couple appears on stage. Charlotte Jaconelli, 16, with a dimpled, gap-tooth smile is pretty and sweet, but her companion, Jonathan Antoine, 17, hides as best he can behind a curtain of shoulder length curls, an overweight young man ill-at-ease in baggy corduroys, a faded Jimi Hendrix tee-shirt and a shapeless beige sweater.

“Go on, then,” says Simon, and settles back with a resigned expression. After a near false start by Jonathan, the two begin to sing. And it’s magical—Simon’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise. He would later compare Jonathan’s voice to Luciano Pavarotti’s. As one of the judges said after their performance at the semi-finals, “I have no idea what you were singing about, but I wanted to cry.”

The two didn’t ultimately win—they came in second to a dancing dog act (yes, really)—but they’ve since made two best-selling albums and travelled the world, singing. Jonathan would never have auditioned, he said, if it weren’t for Charlotte. Teased and humiliated about his weight, he could barely look people in the eye, let alone perform in public. Charlotte couldn’t stand to see him ridiculed: “I couldn’t just stand by,” she said. She was one of the few who treated him kindly.

Kindness has consequences. Applied liberally, like sunscreen, kindness protects you from the damage done by constant exposure to the conflict, politics, poverty and discord of the world around us. Conversely, like the measles, kindness is highly contagious.

People literally “catch” the emotions of people around them. You can see a remarkable example in this video of an infant listening to her mother singing. Psychologist Siu-Lan Tan, Ph.D., explains that “emotional contagion”—the human tendency to absorb and reflect the feelings of others—is how we learn the essential skill of connecting with one another.

The thing is, we’re exposed to a lot of negative social germs and way too few of the positive variety. So let’s inoculate the world, or at least our little corner, with acts of kindness. It doesn’t take much, really. Smile more, give when and what you can, accept kindness from others, speak carefully and listen with your heart. Like Charlotte Jaconelli, be a friend to people that others shun.

If you need a little more direction, check out “6 Effective Ways to Bring More Kindness Into Your Life," by Diane Koopman. Or read the Kindness Blog, which chronicles small acts of everyday kindness that have big impacts—one of my favorites is the businessman who patiently interacted with the 3-year-old seated next to him on a long airplane ride.

Another is the advice George Saunders gave to a class of college graduates, in which he admits that what he regrets most in his life “are failures of kindness.” (If I could demand that you read this, I would! It’s so good. My favorite line: “According to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving. Hurry up.  Speed it along.  Start right now.”) 

The world will be a better place.

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