On Kindness And The Transformative Power Of Praise


“Adults are starved for a kind word. “

– Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert

Kindness. The possibility of kindness and being both a source of and an opening for kindness speaks to me, calls me, moves-touches-uplifts me.  Standing in and living from this possibility I notice that you/i/we are kind at a deeper level.  And at the deeper level we long to express this kindness to put into the world and to receive it.  So why is it that kindness has yet to blossom?

It occurs to me that fear is the biggest obstacle to the blossoming of kindness. What fear?  To get this fear it is essential to get that you and I are ‘thrown’ into this world and in this world one does not show kindness. There is no agreement for kindness to show up.  It takes something to allow kindness to come forth and flower. What does it take? Courage.  Not being ‘naturally courageous’ I find that I must generate this courage.

I find the following ‘story’ a source of courage and a call to stand firm in the possibility of being an opening for kindness to show up in this world. And as such I share it with you.

“One young lady …… was so frightened that she literally couldn’t form words. In the cool, air conditioned room, beads of sweat ran from her forehead down to her chin and dropped on the carpet….. A few words came out, just barely, she returned to her seat defeated, humiliated, broken.

Then an interesting thing happened. I rank it as one of the most fascinating things I have ever witnessed. The instructor went to the front of the class and looked at the broken student. The room was dead silent. I’ll always remember his words. He said, “Wow. That was brave.”

My brain spun in my head. Twenty-some students had been thinking this woman had just crashed and burned in the most dramatically humiliating way. She had clearly thought the same thing. In four words, the instructor had completely reinterpreted the situation. Every one of us knew the instructor was right. We had just witnessed an extraordinary act of personal bravery, the likes of which one rarely sees.

I looked at the student’s face as she reacted to the instructors comment. She had been alone in her misery, fighting a losing fight. But somehow the instructor understood what has happening inside her and he respected it. I swear I saw a light come on in her eyes. She looked up from the floor….  The next week she volunteered to speak again…

There are several things to learn from the story. The most important is the transformative power of praise versus the corrosive impact of criticism. I’ve had a number of occasions since then to test the power of praise, and I find it an amazing force, especially for adults……. adults can go weeks without a compliment while enduring criticism both at work and at home. Adults are starved for a kind word. When you understand the power of honest praise (as opposed to bullshitting, flattery and sucking up), you realise withholding it border on the immoral….”

“Wow. That was brave,” is the best and cleanest example I’ve seen in which looking at something in a different way changes everything. ….”

– Scott Adams, How To Fail At Almost Everything And Still Win Big

It occurs to me that if you-i-we reframe how we look at kindness then it changes everything.  We can choose to see kindness as an opportunity to turn on the light inside ourselves and our fellow human beings, to bring joy into our daily existence,  and contribute to creating a world that works for all, none excluded.

As I write the closing words, I find myself totally present to the kindness that has shown up in my existence this week. The kindness of my wife, the kindness of my daughter, the kindness of my sons, the kinds of my niece, the kindness of my colleagues, the kindness of those of you who have reached out to me to let me know that my speaking here on this blog makes a contribution.  Thank you.  I am truly grateful that you existence and deeply moved by the contribution to make my existence.

What is the greatest gift you can grant another (and yourself)?


Do you really want your life to work?

Do you want your life to work?  Really, truly, deeply do you want your life to work?  Do you really want your life to work or do you want to be right, dominate, have the world work to your wishes, your whims, your point of view?  If you are honest then you’d be present to the latter – your focus on being right, validating yourself, dominating others, insisting that the world work according to your fantasies.  How has that been working out?  Has it brought you peace, freedom to be, self-expression, vitality, connection, love, joy?   Are you up for, really up for, having peace, vitality, connection, love, joy present in your life?  If so then this post is for you.

People matter – are central to the quality of our life, right?

Have you noticed that you are not alone?  Have you noticed that the Earth (amongst other processes) ‘peoples’ and so wherever you are you there are people?  People show up wherever you are, right?  At home, at work, whilst your are walking, driving, shopping, eating, sleeping watching television……  Is it accurate that you cannot escape from people even when you are on a deserted island?  Even on a deserted island, do people show up in your thoughts, do they show up in your feelings?  People matter, our relationships with people matter, connection or the absence of it matters, friction-full or friction-free relationships matter to your living, our experience of life.  Right?

What is the greatest gift you can grant another?

How do you build great relationships with people?  What is the secret?  The secret is to grant them a gift, the greatest gift that you can grant another.   What is this gift?

1.  Let people be.  Let every person that shows up in your world be just as he is and just as he is not.  What is the access to letting people be?  Accept them (looks, clothes, voice, speaking, behaviour, history..) just as they are and just as they are not.  Choose to be totally OK with them just as they are and just as they are not.  If you let people be just as they are and just as they are not what is likely to show up in your world?  Peace?  Freedom?  Ease?

Are you up for going further – putting more into life, making a bigger contribution and indirectly being granted much more than peace, freedom and ease?  Then take on / live / be the following practices:

2.  Be a stand for the wonder and greatness of people – believe in them more than they believe in themselves.  How can I best point out / show what I am talking about?  Read and get present to the following words by Viktor Frankl who has a profound lived understanding /experience of our fellow human beings in all of their manifestations:

If we take man as he really is then we make him worse.  If we overestimate him……overrate man, then we promote him to what he really can be. So we have to be optimists idealists in way so we wind up as the true realists”

If you are willing to make four minutes available to yourself, to treat yourself, then watch this video: http://youtu.be/fD1512_XJEw

3.  Belive in and be enthusiastic about the ‘life projects’ that matter to people.  Your fellow human being, the one that you are thinking about right now, is not simply defined by who he is, where he came from or what he does.  He is much more.  A huge part of him is the future he is living into and the ‘life projects’ that inspires him.  Yes, I get that he is a teacher, a family man, in his late forties.  Do you get that one of his most crucial ‘life projects’ is to be a musician – to pursue a dream he gave up early in life and which really matters to him?  ‘Life projects’ are simply possibilities that we imagine, create and project in the future.  They are hugely important because they give shape to our being today and influence/shape our choices including how we spend our attention/energy/time.  So leave aside your critical mind, your fears, your insecurities and step into the possibilites that you fellow human being (wife, husband, son, daughter, brother, sister, friend, neighbour, colleague, manager…) has created and which give him and his life meaning.  Step into that possibility and be enthusiastic. If you are in position to do so then go further – lend a helping hand, help to open doors, to provide resources (including your encouragement), carry some of the load.

4.  Be there for the people that show up in your life.  Be there during the good times to celebrate – celebrate with them, acknowledge, congratulate, laugh, lift them high ‘onto your shoulders’.  Be there for them during the difficult times when stuff does not turn out as they would like it to.  Provide: an empathic ear;  a solid-warm-friendly shoulder for them to rest their head; create a ladder/scaffold and help them climb up when you judge that the time is right; lead the way up the scaffold, give them your hand and help them to climb up.   Do this freely and wholeheartedly and you and your relationship will never be the same again.  One of my most enduring relationships was built by literally helping a ‘friend’ climb a mountain – giving up the lead, letting others take the lead, providing encouragement to this friend in words, being a little ahead of him when I needed to be and offering him my hand when he found it difficult to climb up the mountain.  We may not speak for many months and the love is there – neither of us have forgotten that day, that experience.

What is the greatest gift you can give yourself?

OK, by now you should be clear that the greatest gift that you can grant the people in your life is made up the following: letting them be just as they are and just as they are not; believing in them more than they believe in themselves; being enthusiastic about and contributing to their life projects; and being there for them.

Now I have as surprise for you.  The greatest gift you can give yourself is to grant this ‘greatest gift’ to the people that show up in your life!  You might be wondering “What?”  Think about it.  When you grant this gift to the people that show up in your life and living you get the following treats:

Peace / Ease / Freedom – you no longer struggle with people because you have giving up ‘resisting’ them as they are and as they are not and that shows up as a heavy burden lifted off your shoulder!

Relatedness / Connection / Enthusiasm / Love / ‘Sense of Adventure‘- by choosing to let people be and enter into their lives through encouraging/supporting/contributing to their ‘life projects’ as well as being there for them through the good times and the difficult times you create the space for relatedness, connection, love, enthusiasm and a sense of adventure to show up in your experience of living.  Whenever we take part in ‘life projects’ we take part in ‘giving birth’ to something new and this shows up as a sense of adventure – we feel more alive!

My guarantee to you and my challenge for you

I guarantee you that the moment that you grant this ‘greatest gift’ your experience of living will be transformed – the quality of your life will be transformed.  To keep this transformed live you have to consciously keep granting this ‘greatest gift’ again and again – every day, every moment.  Are you up for transforming the quality of your life?  Are you up for taking me up on my guarantee?