There’s a funny thing that happens when you start walking the kindness talk. People seem to crave it. Recently, I’ve been asked to speak at various companies and organizations — from accounting companies to human services, from high net worth investment firms to public schools. What’s the common denominator? I’d like to think this trend is about how we each can be more of the human we want to be: caring, wholehearted and generous. That’s part of it, of course. That’s the bright side of such a talk. But underneath is a deep need to understand what gets in the way. That’s the shadow side.
We need to become friends with the shadow side.
This is easier than you might think. The dark side of corporate culture reveals itself in the face of fear and threat — meeting deadlines, KPIs, profits, career advancement, and all the usual suspects that arise when real or imagined survival is at stake — at the expense of human connection and compassion.
The paradox at the heart of this matter is that it’s okay to be competitive AND cooperative at the same time. It’s more than okay. It’s necessary. It requires awareness in how humans respond to the world, through three emotion motivational systems espoused by the British compassion researcher and psychologist Paul Gilbert. I wrote about it in The Kindness Cure in chapter 10 (Emotional Paradox).
The paradoxes you can experience in your own mind are clashes between the “old brain/mind” and the “new brain/mind.” Your “old brain/mind” is the “base model” of human emotional regulation and hasn’t changed much over millennia. Its job is to serve your basic survival instincts as soon as possible and to seek out pleasure and comfort. It is speedy and reactive. The three main emotion regulation systems operating within it are:
• A threat and self-protection system that senses threats quickly and activates the fight- flight-freeze- faint response in your limbic system. This is like your home surveillance system.
• An incentive and resource-seeking system that propels you to seek pleasure, consume, play, strive/achieve, and mate. It’s like an Energizer Bunny scurrying about, looking for fun or success in life.
• A soothing and contentment system that seeks balance, rest, and connection, and is strongly linked to affection, bonding, caregiving, kindness, and compassion. This is the calm and connect system, and it is a bit slower to come online, but when it does, it gives you a sense of overall wellbeing—like a baby’s snuggly or a rocking chair.
Your “new brain/mind” developed later in human evolution. It’s really smart. The newer model is more complex and allows you to work things through, compare, contemplate, mull things over, create, innovate, imagine, seek knowledge, strive for goals, and develop an identity. This allows for quick learning, exchanging information from among groups, and passing on these adaptive genes to future generations. Importantly, this sophisticated upgrade allows you to be aware that you exist and have a sense of self. Thanks to your “new brain/mind,” you can be aware of your awareness, unlike any other animal, and observe your own mind. This is, of course, both a blessing and a curse.
When your “new brain/mind” is pulled by the fears and passions of the “old brain/mind,” you can get stuck in unkind behaviors (toward yourself or others). This is the unfortunate bug in the system, so to speak.
Workplace Woes, Compassionate Action
This came up in a recent conversation. I was a guest on a podcast summit created by Mari-Lyn Harris, founder of Heart@Work, who I met via Linked In through what I call kindness spotters. (We kindness warriors just find each other.)
Mari-Lyn has been figuring out ways to share the news about leading with kindness, to assist leaders in cultivating better productivity, profits and a happier workplace culture. She created a Virtual Kindness Conference and you can watch it (it’s free). The interviews include short and sweet conversations with experts about workplace culture. You can watch the interviews at Heart@Work or on YouTube. I talk about befriending the inner critic at work and gathering positivity allies to counteract the negativity that even one nasty person can evoke. It takes commitment. Of course, it helps when leadership/management adopts and embodies the values of caring and compassion as integral to company goals, even if you are selling widgets or crunching numbers. You might enjoy the series and have something you would like to offer to an ongoing conversation on kind leadership.
Here’s to growing a kind mind.
21 Days of Kindfulness: Get daily notes to your inbox for just three weeks — which is about the time it takes for a new habit to take root. I invite you to kickstart kindness in your life and share with a friend. It’s free.
A Little Deck of Kindfulness: The card deck is here! (See the sample image above). Cultivate more kindness and compassion for oneself and for others. Order now! (in continental USA).