Written By: Robb Stevens
Several months ago, on a cold and windy day, I was in a long line of cars going through a car wash. When my turn came, the attendant checking me in, who was dressed in warm gear from head to toe, did the routine check-in procedures quickly and efficiently concluded with a standard, yet very warm sendoff comment of, “you’re good to go – have a great day!” To which I reflexively replied, “you too!” As my window started to go up, he quickly told me that I was the first person that day who had said “you too” back to him.
1) I was glad to have shared some brief positivity with a perfect stranger, but it really surprised me to hear that no one else had given him a similar cheerful greeting that day. How strikingly disappointing that at a drive-through car wash at which hundreds of cars had already passed through, the responses or lack of responses from customers to this gentleman were seemingly as cold as the weather outside, or at least that’s how he perceived it.
2) It’s interesting how powerful the words “you too” were in this situation. I didn’t even think about it, I just said it. The power of positivity or unintentional kindness, if you can call it that, is real. His expression showed appreciation for my business, and my response showed him that I appreciated his effort and customer service to me. I will never know how much of an impact this really had on him. Maybe it brightened him enough to greet the next person with sincerity, or perhaps it lasted the rest of the day, or even longer. Many of the people we encounter every day we will never see again, and it takes very little effort to share simple kindness with strangers. The secret to it, though, is to make it genuine and natural.
3) It struck me how unintentional yet effortless this was at the time. I did not even realize I was doing anything kind or particularly meaningful until it was acknowledged, but because he said something, it became an opportunity for me to learn and reflect. For most of our reflexive words, gestures, or acts toward strangers, the encounter comes and goes, and we think nothing of it. If that’s the case, why not make such encounters as positive as possible?
We might assume that kindness is natural, innate, and/or instinctive, but in our busy and distracted lives, that’s not always the case. There are some types of kindness that are insincere, fake, or agenda-driven. Often, these fake expressions are easy to detect and thus can have a negative impact. Performative kindness is expressing an offer of support we don’t mean and have no intention to follow up on. All that does is “check the box” and make us feel satisfied that we did what we were supposed to do, but is it real? Maybe in my head, at least, all I was doing at the car wash that day was “checking the box,” but fortunately, in that case, it was received well and taught me something in the process about human interaction.
Unfortunately, some people use manipulative kindness or “sucking up” not out of concern for others, but as a means of getting something out of them. When you experience manipulative kindness from someone, even authentic interactions with them will ultimately be met with suspicion.
Oversweetness is another form of fake kindness. This is displayed when someone wants desperately to show you that they like you, how much they care, how good of a person they are, and, in the process, they suffocate you! They compliment everything you do or laugh at everything you say. That can get old really fast! This form of kindness understands that it’s about other people, but it also misunderstands that the goal of kindness is to make others feel validated and respected, not to reshape their mood in a specific way.
Fake kindness is almost always about the giver rather than the receiver, which is completely backward. It typically fails because it’s disrespectful and driven by self-interest even if done so unconsciously.
On the other hand, genuine kindness has no agenda. It is driven by the golden rule principle. As such, it shows respect and appreciation for others. When the golden rule is at work, kindness becomes the engine of respect – showing people they’re valued and helping them value themselves. That happens best when it starts with recognizing the other person as our equal. They aren’t to be used, manipulated, or invalidated, but should be heard, understood, and sincerely appreciated. Kindness must push beyond routine civility, politeness, or the social dance of exchanging pleasantries. It should be real, genuine, and without pretense.
The power of positivity or unintentional kindness, if you can call it that, is real. His expression showed appreciation for my business, and my response showed him that I appreciated his effort and customer service to me.
Liberty Mutual ran a series of ads a few years ago on the pay-it-forward concept. The ads showed people in everyday situations doing simple and spontaneous acts of kindness in real time while others took notice, then followed suit. There are so many things that can “go viral” in our world today, whether it’s videos, news stories, memes, and of course, human illnesses that have come to dominate everything about our lives. Wouldn’t it be great if we could make kindness go viral too? Maybe at times, it will be random, but as I have learned, it should also be intentional and can be as simple as two short words.
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