Kindness Changes Everything

Mister Fred Rogers, who was born on this day in 1928, is famous for reminding us that in times of crisis to look for the helpers among us.  And there are many. As the response to the COVID-19 epidemic changes on an hourly basis, the bottom line is that we still must follow the same precautions recommended by the CDC, such as washing hands, staying put, social distancing, and helping from afar.  My heart has been warmed on a daily basis with the generosity and goodwill of so many people. In our state (MA) the National Guard has been called in to help with the medical response in setting up hospitals and dispensing food. 

As I wrote last week on my blog, as we take this great collective pause, remember that whatever we insert into our social networks (offline or online) will spread.  That’s the Three Degrees of Influence Rule coined by social scientists Christakis and Fowler, who have mathematically mapped this out. I summarize this in my book, The Kindness Cure, because it is so amazing (Chapter 28: Networks of Generosity):

This [rule] shows that if you demonstrate a kindness even when it is at a cost to you, that generous behavior spreads to your friend (one degree), your friend’s friend (two degrees), and your friend’s friend’s friend (three degrees)—reaching people you don’t even know. Similarly, that third-degree friend you don’t know can influence you too, just by being in a network of shared social contacts. Christakis suggests that we assemble ourselves as ‘super organisms,’ meaning we are organically connected to one another with emotions, beliefs, and memories. Our networks, he believes, are a kind of social capital.

The upside is that acts of kindness, generosity, and cooperation can spread with only a few people. Of course, the opposite can also happen: networks can spread harmful ideologies and behaviors.

Tara Cousineau, The Kindness Cure

We have more influence than we imagine. This human capacity gives us a social responsibility and a choice. Anxiety and fear are natural reactions and can hijack our brains. Yet, we can also notice and respond in ways that are beneficial to ourselves and therefore beneficial to others.  It’s like that airline metaphor: Put the oxygen mask on yourself first before helping the person next to you.

In a time when our emotional lives may be triggered by fear and anxiety, I find solace once again in the spirit of Mister Rogers, who taught on a very basic level that our feelings are mentionable and manageable.

The values we care about the deepest, and the movements within society that support those values, command our love. When those things that we care about so deeply become endangered, we become enraged.  And what a healthy thing that is! Without it we would never stand up and speak out for what we believe.

Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember

Of course, one of those shared human values is kindness.

In the online realm, many thought leaders, teachers and publishers are offering online courses and teachings for free. I wanted to share some with you. As more resources cross my radar I will be posting on my special resource page, SpreadTheLove2020. And a final nod to Mister Rogers:

Deep within us–no matter who we are–there lives a feeling of wanting to be lovable, of wanting to be the kind of person that others like to be with. And the greatest thing we can do is to let people know that they are loved and capable of loving.

Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Unsplash

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