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Be Kind, But Do It Quietly

22 December 2021
Be Kind, But Do It Quietly


John-Tyler Binfet, PhD :
There are different ways to be kind. One approach is what is known as "Quiet Kindness," where the initiator of kindness doesn't reveal her identity, and, rather, delivers their kind act on the down-low. That is, no one knows who performed the act of kindness. It's been argued that this approach reflects advanced social and emotional skills-the skills that undergird the extent to which we regulate our emotions, our ability to take perspective, consider others, establish and manage our relationships, demonstrate care and concern for others, and show resiliency in the face of life's hiccups. There is no expectation in quiet kindness of praise or a reward for being kind, rather, the initiator basks in knowing that their kind act will positively impact someone else, oftentimes a stranger.
My approach to researching kindness asks students to both define what it means to be kind and to ask them for examples of kindness they have both done and received. Older students will write out their responses but with young students (kindergarten to 2nd grade), I ask them to draw or illustrate what kindness means to them or how they're kind. Thanks to the generosity of thousands of public-school students, I've been able to capture thousands of examples of kindness. It was in analyzing the data from these surveys that graduate student researcher Camilla Enns and I identified the notion of Quiet Kindness. These acts stood out because of their stealth-like delivery and the initiator's desire to remain anonymous. Examples vary and might include acts that reflect self-restraint (or what we call self-regulation in social and emotional speak). Here, we see examples of a student who doesn't laugh at a joke made at the expense of a classmate, knowing their laughter will add to the insult, or a student who chooses to listen to the teacher when classmates have chosen a more boisterous pathway. Beyond self-regulation, there are additional examples of Quiet Kindness that see students anchor their kind act in perspective-taking, considering what might bring joy to someone in their school or the broader community. Here, we see examples that include a student who leaves change in the vending machine for the next person making a purchase. Another example is found in the student who intentionally refrains from speaking about his family and the activities they did on the weekend knowing a classmate's parents are divorcing. There are rich social and emotional skills at work behind-the-scenes in these quiet acts of kindness.
Being Quietly Kind contrasts with "responsive kindness" where one reacts to a perceived social, emotional, or physical need." A neighbor hears of someone unable to be with family over the holidays and invites them to come for Christmas dinner. A second approach to being kind that contrasts with Quiet Kindness is "intentional kindness" that sees someone plan out an act of kindness for someone or something (e.g., their local animal shelter). It is here we see a customized act of kindness that requires thought, planning and execution. In recent research out of the University of British Columbia, we examined the prevalence of Quiet Kindness vis-à-vis responsive or intentional acts. In a sample of 97 undergraduate students in a health and wellness elective course who were asked to plan and deliver five kind acts over the course of one week, we saw 492 acts of kindness planned and the following distribution of kind acts across the three approaches: Intentional Kind Acts (80 percent), Responsive Kind Acts (14 percent), and Quiet Kind Acts (6 percent). Admittedly, additional research is required (with larger sample sizes and varied populations) to determine just how common (or uncommon) Quiet Acts of Kindness are and to more fully understand the motivation behind their delivery.
We know that being kind to others offers a whole host of well-being benefits for both the initiator and the recipient and adding Quiet Acts of Kindness to your repertoire of kindness skills is one way to help safeguard your well-being and demonstrate care and concern for those around you. Be kind, but consider doing it quietly.

(John-Tyler Binfet, PhD is an associate professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus).

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