In 2000, I was with my parents in the seaside village of Kovalam, in Kerala, India. We had found a restaurant we particularly liked and each time I chose the same meal. On our fifth visit, as I ordered the same meal again, I said to the waiter, ‘I’m sorry, I know I’m boring’. He turned to look at me with a laughing smile and in his lovely Indian accent with a side nod of his head said, ‘it’s okay madam we are all human beings’. While it was a simple moment, it has always stood out to me because it was so sweet, funny and kind.
And it is also true. We are all human beings, and in this humanness, we can have wonderful joyful times and we can also suffer. We particularly suffer and are challenged in times of uncertainty, shock, fear and change.
I know when I first heard we were experiencing a world-wide pandemic, I was in shock for weeks and didn’t quite know what to do with myself.
As humans, in uncertain and hard times, we often don’t know what to do with ourselves and we tend to become more intensified in our responses. Research tells us that ‘uncertainty acts like rocket fuel for worry, it causes people to see threats everywhere they look, and at the same time it makes them more likely to react emotionally in response to those threats’. We are then often on high alert. We can tend to be more polarised in our perceptions, seeing things as black and white and seeing others as friends or enemies and as wrong and ourselves as right. In fact, a study on political polarisation, found that polarised perception was strongest in people with the lowest tolerance for uncertainty and uncertainty exacerbated the polarisation.
When we are more stressed and experiencing tension or fear, we often tend to be at our worst rather than our best and these current circumstances we now find ourselves in are the perfect breeding ground for conflict, discord and reaction.
For so many, mental health challenges are intensified by this current situation and the hardships so many are facing.
At the very time when we need more support than ever, more connection and to feel not alone we are experiencing a greater harshness in interactions that cause another level of hurt, pain and suffering.
I have seen conversations between people on social media who are angry and critical, polarised by very different views. I have seen people comment on what politicians or others are doing or not doing in a way that is harsh and hurtful. I have heard so many conversations of anger, despair, and devastation that wound deeply.
Having worked with many conflicted groups and teams going through change and challenging times, we have seen these kinds of situations in a microcosm. We see individuals having significant differences of opinion and views and feeling very passionately that they are right and then how the hurtful expression of this leads to more pain and suffering and undermines relationships, wellbeing and mental health.
- How would your communication and conversations be different if your number one focus was to interact with kindness and care?
We’ve seen this make a positive difference in disputes between team members, in group dynamics, in mediations where people are in significant conflict and with couples when they choose to focus on kindness rather than being right.
Research indicates that kindness makes a real difference to those experiencing it and to those who engage in acts of kindness. It releases endorphins and oxytocin, enhancing feelings of wellbeing as well as creating new neural connections. This means that given the plasticity of the brain, a person will become more habitually and naturally kind over time with practice.
In this time of uncertainty, we at least have control over the choices we make in what we say, how we say it and the kindness and compassion that we bring. It helps to focus on giving people the benefit of the doubt. Even when you disagree with someone else or feel strongly, you can make the difference, by doing this gently, with kindness and care.
Kindness can sound like:
How are you doing? It sounds like things have been really tough for you.
I can hear you’re very passionate about this and you have strong views. I see it differently, and I’d like to understand more of where you’re coming from and share more of my perspective too.
We seem to have different views. These are not easy times and there are lots of different ideas about this. Perhaps it’s better to not keep talking about this because we probably won’t change each other’s minds. How are you doing?
I’ve also seen and heard many beautiful instances of people reaching out, providing support, offering conversations and connection and interacting with beautiful moments of compassion and love at this time. Hard times can bring out the best in people and we see this every day too.
Let’s together remember our common humanity and focus on taking the edge off any harsh communication, and instead focus on kindness, care and compassion as an important antidote to the pain and suffering many are experiencing. Through kindness and care we can all make a difference.
We’re happy to talk to you about the challenges that you or your team is facing and how to bring kindness into the workplace. You can contact us at Tulsi.email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Heid, M, Science Explains Why uncertainty is so hard on our brain and how to knock out its effect, March 20, 2020. https://elemental.medium.com/science-explains-why-uncertainty-is-so-hard-on-our-brain-6ac75938662
 News from Brown. Politically polarized brains share an intolerance of uncertainty. https://www.brown.edu/news/2021-05-13/polarization. Research: Intolerance of uncertainty modulates brain-to-brain synchrony during politically polarized perception. PNAS May 18, 2021. https://www.pnas.org/content/118/20/e2022491118
 Compassion and the science of kindness: Harvard Davis Lecture 2015. British Journal of General Practice, 2016 July. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4917056/#b9