Paul Hargreaves is a B-Corp Ambassador, speaker and author of The Fourth Bottom Line: Flourishing in the new era of compassionate leadership  

The word ‘kindness' certainly implies an act, no matter how small, of helping someone. Like ‘compassion', it is very much an active word but implicit in its definition is the everyday nature of being kind; whereas the word ‘compassion' is normally used of a particular situation that has stirred the emotions. If we are kind, then we will regularly demonstrate kindness to others as it is inherent in our nature. That's why for many people, our natural instincts of kindness result in some amazing actions in a crisis or emergency.

One of the main themes to emerge out of the Independent newspaper report on the horrific bombings at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester in 2017 was ‘kindness'. Reporters described how ordinary people reacted with kindness and bravery when helping those in need. If you remember, these acts of kindness took place initially in the absence of the Fire and Rescue Service, who were kept away from the scene by their leaders in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. Local residents offered the afflicted concert goers and their parents places to stay, and taxi drivers offered free rides to those involved across the city. The spirit of kindness of the people of Manchester was an amazing display of resilience in the face of tragedy. The prime minister at the time, Theresa May, said: ‘While we experienced the worst of humanity in Manchester last night, we also saw the best. The attempt to divide us met countless acts of kindness that brought people closer together and, in the days ahead, those must be the things that we remember.'

The word ‘kindness' was much used in many other reports of the incident in connection with how Mancunians reacted. Now, growing up in that great city, I know it to be a particularly kind and friendly place, but I am sure that kindness would have been demonstrated in any city in such adversity. I believe that most human beings are naturally kind and this comes to the fore in difficult circumstances. What we may need to work harder at is letting out our kindness in everyday circumstances.

Various organisations and charities have been set up around the world to promote random acts of kindness - and with one very good reason. Kindness is good for us and good for the world. It has been scientifically proven that those who perform acts of kindness on a regular basis enjoy better health and live longer than those who are less kind. That's because neurochemicals such as serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins are released into our bloodstream when we perform an act of kindness. Not only that, but kindness eases anxiety, it is good for our heart and mental health, and can prevent illness. Those who practise acts of kindness will be aware of this; there is a bounce in your step and a smile inside when you have performed an act of kindness.

Another interesting fact about kindness is that it is contagious. To use a trivial example, we will all have been in two different types of traffic jams: those where every driver refuses to give an inch and guards their space in the queue ferociously, and others where one driver  shows kindness and lets in several other cars. This behaviour then spreads to other drivers, who also start letting people in, and the kindness spreads. In a study by Jamil Zaki in July 2016 called ‘Kindness Contagion', he concluded: that people do not only imitate the particulars of positive actions but also the spirit underlying them. This implies that kindness itself is contagious, and that it can cascade across people, taking on new forms along the way.' The power of kindness, if you reflect on it, is enormous and can potentially change communities, cities, nations and even the world. To a small degree, this was one very positive effect of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020; acts of kindness seemed to follow the virus around the globe and replicated almost as fast. This gives me hope for an ongoing kindness pandemic, which could transform the world for good.

Being kind also means being aware of the world around us. In his book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Yuval Noah Harari describes what he calls one of the nastiest experiments in the history of social sciences: in 1970, some trainee ministers in the Presbyterian Church were asked to hurry to a distant lecture hall and give a talk on the parable of the Good Samaritan. (The irony was intentional because in this well-known story, a man is beaten and robbed and left for dead on the roadside. Two religious people walk on by, whereas the guy who helps him is from a different ethnic group that should have made him his enemy.) Now, those organising this experiment had put a shabbily dressed person in a doorway along the student ministers' route, who called out for help as they rushed past. The trainee ministers were put into groups which had varying degrees of time pressure placed on them. In the group that had the most pressure put on them, most of the trainee ministers did not stop to ask whether the beggar was OK, let alone help him. They were so focused on the task in hand that they couldn't see the real needs in the world around them. Are we like this as leaders, too busy and pressurised most of the time to be kind?

Let's try to keep looking out for others even when we are busy and find opportunities to show kindness. That way, it will become a habit and we may be called kind by others. As one of the American kindness charities puts it in their strapline, let's ‘make kindness the norm'.