While, in theory, each of us has a similar capacity for kindness, the way we demonstrate it varies according to personality type. Introverts and extroverts, for example, show kindness in different ways.
Extroverts are much more action-oriented – they will demonstrate their kindness by giving you a present or hugging you. An extrovert would find it very hard to do a kind act without anyone knowing they’d done it. At most social events people seem to love talking, not listening. When you say something, you can see that they’re already preparing their next move.
Introverts are more likely to do something quiet without even being noticed. Introverts are very often kind listeners, which is so precious these days. They like to listen and give people their attention. Introverts are kind by giving people their full attention, and by focusing on what the other person is saying. Another tool of kindness which introverts are more likely to have at their disposal is empathy. They observe a lot, listen a lot, then carefully evaluate what they’ve seen and heard. In this way they can easily identify with the points of view of others, which in turn makes them kind. This does come with its own risk, though. If I as a person understand everybody, that makes it difficult for me to set boundaries. In general, however, empathy is a secret superpower.
THE STRENGTH TO BE KIND
One thing that’s rarely discussed in the context of kindness is how toughminded and determined one needs to be to practice it. By its very definition, kindness involves going out of your way to help someone – it might also require that you speak out against unfairness or injustice, or justify doing something you wouldn’t usually do.
One danger for introverts, however, is passivity. Having a calm exterior is great, however, the desire to avoid difficult situations is not. So the experts advise introverts to draw from their inner strengths of substance and focus. Many of the Nobel Peace Prize-winners were introverts. If an introvert can focus on the important factual points and ideas that they want to get across – which is what they really like – they’ll feel far more comfortable standing up for themselves.
For example, if you can tell yourself “I’m doing this because it’s really important to me” then as an introvert, you can overcome pretty much anything. Those of a quiet disposition have deep inner resources that allow them to keep going in order to support a cause. Introverts are tenacious, one of their strong points is purposeful perseverance. Kindness and standing up for your beliefs do come into it. Maybe introverts aren’t as confrontational as extroverts but they’re often highly persevering and patient – allowing them to push forward in their own way. Also introverts can stand up to others.
For those of us who would like to be kinder, but fear being taken advantage of. Generally, we are mostly way too afraid of being exploited. If you look at the research, what distinguishes the most altruistic individuals is the fact that they are far less fearful of other people’s motives, so they end up being kinder more often.
Experiment with being just a little bit kinder every day to begin with. No-one is expecting you to donate a kidney to a complete stranger. Start by helping somebody on the street where such help was not expected of you and see how you feel afterwards. There is nothing wrong with a bit of enlightened self-interest – doing something because it makes you feel good. Then, the next time, do a small activity that costs a small amount – not too much – where you think that there might be some danger of being taken advantage of. Do it and see how you feel. Be aware when taking such action that it’s not a lifelong commitment. If they ask you to do it again, you’re always free to say no.