The Human Kindness Project
The Human Kindness Project

Proactive Human Kindness is a Must

Why Human Kindness
Must be Actively Practiced

By W. Owen Thornton

twitter: @WOThornton
LinkedIn: Owen Thornton

After teaching a course on Social Marketing at Fanshawe College, I am more convinced than ever that we must actively consider and think about practicing human kindness towards one another. The reason? Lee and Kotler write that we tend to underestimate the good actions of others and we overestimate the bad actions of others. This essay explains the human kindness challenges around this idea.


Consider that we tend to act like others. Consider too that we do this on auto pilot. In fact, Chris Bargh’s research proved this syndrome that we act on auto pilot. In his study a host of people worked on re-forming mixed up sentences.  One half of the group were the control group. The other half worked with words that may remind people of being old, such as “Florida, old, grey and wrinkled.” Once the people left the room where they were working on the sentences the real experiment began.  hose who worked with the words that remind people of being old, walked to the elevator much more slowly than those who did not. So, if we don’t “think” about what we are doing, we are behaving under the influence of the data that comes into our heads. Bargh and his team called it acting from automaticity.


So, back to the original problem I addressed: that we underestimate good behaviour and overestimate bad behaviour. If, as I propose, we don’t think about how we behave, then here is the problem.


Someone genuinely behaves well in a specific circumstance say to a level 8 out of 10. But when we evaluate their behaviour we underestimate their level of goodness and we identify it as a level 7. Now, if we think we are acting like our friends, whom we observe and we act like from automaticity as Bargh’s research indicates, then we are acting in a positive manner but only to the level 7. So the example we are setting, if we don’t think about how we act and we leave our positive actions on auto pilot is a ‘level seven’. When people observe us, and if they too are underestimating our positive actions, they could be acting to a level 6 in those situations. So our actions, if left to downward spiral like this would create a less and less kind society.


Now, think about the fact that we overestimate bad behaviour. If someone does something that’s really a level 7 bad action, we tend to see it as a level 8 or higher. Now, if we consider acting badly on our own we wouldn’t want to act worse than others. But because we overestimate how badly others act and ‘if’ we act as badly as we perceive they acted, then we are granting ourselves the ability to act as badly as we perceived the other person acted. So we may grant ourselves the ability to act ‘as badly as, but not worse than others’ but due to the fact that we overestimate their bad actions we could well be acting worse than they behaved. Here we see an out-of-control spiral of people behaving more and more badly than others.


So, knowing that we act from automaticity AND that we tend to underestimate positive actions in others and to overestimate bad actions in others, we could be acting less kind and nastier than the people we observe. And … seeing as they too are observing us … and we are no shining example of kindness ourselves, others may be acting worse than us and so kindness diminishes and unkindness increases in a continuous downward spiral. We must become aware of how we perceive others and aware of our own actions. We must honor the good in others genuinely and call out the bad behaviour in a similar manner. We can accept that we’re easily influenced but we must begin to pay attention to our actions if we want this world to be kinder, more loving, and more caring.

So, 'think' and ... be kind to one another, out there, eh?




Guilty of Overthinking Human Kindness

Guilty of Overthinking Human Kindness

By W. Owen Thornton

I have been thinking of you dear ‘human kindness’ readers. I wrote a long, long article for you and once I was done, wondered what it was all about.  I’ve been working through some deep stuff as I seek a job and I’ve been teaching an on-line course on social marketing.  These two new struggles are helping me to come to new understanding about my ‘self’ and my life.  Social marketing utilizes the basic principles of marketing a product or service, but combines them with creating a meaningful behavioural change in individuals which benefits both themselves and society at large.  What’s fascinating about ‘teaching’ social marketing is that that is what I have been doing here, on this blog for years.  I’ve been attempting to convince you and others to ‘act more kindly’ towards your ‘self’ and towards others.

The questions I have been asking myself about human kindness in regards to getting you to ‘change your behaviour’ in order to act more kindly towards others may be interesting for you to consider.  First, what would anyone hope to gain from changing their behaviour so that they are more kind?  That answer is complicated, but let me see if I can give a relatively short answer. 

I think the first answer I have relates to my unemployment.  I’ve been attempting to ‘brand myself’ and in so doing, I’ve been discovering my skills and … in discovering my skills, I’ve been discovering my ‘self’.  I’ve been learning what I care about, what’s of value to me and what I want to do for the last 15 or so years of my career.  What I’ve noticed is that I tend to immerse myself in my career/vocation at the expense of all other things.  Now, with time on my hands to ‘think’ I realize that guy who was always so busy was hiding in his work and he didn’t know himself very well.  I realize I am bright and energetic.  I love people.  I am creative and easy to get along with (for most people) and I and a strong writer, but I am NOT an editor.  I want to help others to help themselves in their own lives and career, so working in employee communications or public relations would been a boon.  But I also know I am a terrible punster, and I know that I am unique and different and sometimes a little weird.  I’ve been hiding that guy, not wanting his true colours to be seen.  And in hiding him, I’ve been unkind to my ‘self’.  I have been attempting to figure out who I am and I’ve been playing with that on Twitter[1].  It is odd but the more I strive to let me be me, the more people are following me and I find that both odd and delightful.  (My followers are few, but are up 50%.)  But I do know that in accepting my ‘self’ I’ve become happier and that fact is a kindness towards my ‘self’.

The second answer is my stand pat answer: you want to be kind to others because you hope everyone else will be kinder and that in a world like that, your life will be made better by other people becoming actively kind such that one day, you will find a door that has been closed to you suddenly opens.  It cannot be a goal that if I’m kind to Dana, that she’s kind to ‘x through to x100’ such that ‘x100’ is kind to you.  The kind of positive energy I want us all to put out there, simply doesn’t work that way.  One objection people would have to my ideas is that if you can’t see the direct reciprocal response, what’s the point of doing it?  Again the answer is, because it would make the world a happier, better place because it would be better to live in a better world.  There are at least three obstacles towards my hope for us all becoming kinder: 1. Short-term influence; 2. The fact that many people don’t think about things the way I do and 3. The social marketing book I’m teaching from suggests people just don’t behave the way I would like them to behave (I’ll get specific in a moment).

In regards to short-term influence, we appear to be creatures of the now.  Find a dime in a phone booth and you’ll more than likely help someone who drops papers in front of you.  Don’t find a dime, and this, remember isn’t a negative occurrence (losing a dime would be a negative experience (not finding a dime is just a neutral experience)) and you’re more than likely to walk past the paper-dropper (Isen and Levin) without even seeing them.  If we are truly like this, and it appears that we are (google Darley and Batson Good Samaritan Study), then if someone doesn’t help us right now, we’re not very likely to help someone else. 

Social marketing has something to say about this.  “Overestimations of problem behaviour will increase these problem behaviours, while underestimations of healthy behaviours will discourage individuals from engaging in them”[2].  What does this mean?  If we think everybody is kind when evidence like Isen and Levin demonstrates that we are not,
we’re probably not acting as kind as we think we are.  In other words, because we think everyone’s kind but they are not as kind as we ‘think they are’ (as evidenced by the Isen and Levin phone-booth dime experiment), you and I will be disinclined to change to become kinder: meaning, I am fighting an uphill battle all the way!

Second, a part of the ‘me’ I’ve hidden from is the part of me who believes we should think about being kind when most people are busy taking this sort of thing for granted.  What makes me write this blog is what makes me different from most folks.  I want us to be kinder out of some noble sense of ‘it’s the right thing to do so we ought to do it’ when most people are ‘busy thinking they’re as kind as everyone else’, even though none of them may really be as kind as
we ‘think’ they are.  Phew!  Did that make sense?  In other words I hope to live out my life from some kind of ‘noble’ sense, like an ancient Knight (whether I succeed in this may be up for debate by others: I cannot say so for my ‘self’) but social behavioural studies indicate we overestimate how ‘good’ people are and so, because we do this, we’re not as good as ‘we think we are’ … at least in regards to becoming actively kinder towards one another.  Here’s the upshot of all that and this addresses part three from above.

I have always approached my mission in this blog from the noble one. That if I can convince you I’m right, you will become kinder and that in you becoming kinder, the world will become kinder and you will have a better, kinder world to live in (as will I).  But the truth is, we all ‘think’ we’re already kind when we’re NOT kind in the way I am writing about.  We have underestimated the healthy behaviour.  So there is absolutely no way to get you to change your behaviour because you ‘think’ you already behave the way in which I am asking you to change into.  Phew!  Another one of those ‘sentences’ that’s hard to write and difficult to comprehend.

My defense for my position would sound something like this.  If we were all as kind towards one another as I’m asking you to be, your struggles in life would be somewhat reduced (because other people, having had kind experiences would likewise be generating kind experiences for you).  So, if you see your struggles today as being the same as five years ago, then you have not been as kind as you need to be to change the environs around you (or the theory doesn’t work (but we see that it does.  If we left more dimes in phone booths, more people would stop to help more people: this is a demonstrable fact) or not enough time has passed to invoke change and you need more persistence and patience).  However, there is a ready counter to my position.  You can say, “I’ve been as kind as you asked.  I’ve always been kind and I’ve always been this kind.  This is the way the world is.  We have maximized our kindness level.”  What if I can counter the counter?

What if we reject the world’s existing kindness level?  What if we demand more of ourselves and others?  Look.  We all hear of someone ‘getting a break’ because a mentor takes them under their wing and shows them the ropes.  Mentors, are interesting creatures.  They have the ability to ‘see something in the newcomer’ and they usually invest in these people wisely.  Protégés of mentors usually learn well from mentors and can utilize the lessons they learn from mentors wisely so that they can rise to the top.  It’s that kind of story that I want to recreate more often in my human kindness pursuit[3].  I want to make incidents like the one I’m describing more commonplace.  I want, yes, for myself, but also for more of you, more opportunities for more people to shine their brilliant light on the world.

I want to manage one last objection to this goal.  If more people did this kind of ‘act of kindness’ more often, it wouldn’t be special.  Then what happens?  We have to turn to our Isen and Levin passage on the phone-booth dime experiment from above once again.  The more people find dimes, the more people will help others pick up papers.  I want human kindness to become an epidemic that makes the entire world better.  From helping the shut-in neighbor next door, to solving international differences between nations.  We ‘have’ the power in us, if we only invoke it, if we only ask more of ourselves … and in so doing, we can then ask and ‘expect’ more of others and then all of our lives are made better.  Together we CAN do this!

Love, laugh, learn, care for one another my friends.

Yours in human kindness

Owen Thornton

[1] When I tweeted only around an exclusive ‘brand’ ie human kindness and leadership, my followers were in the low 30s. When I tweeted as ‘me’ my following has grown to 49.  The difference? From sole platitudes about leadership and human kindness I have added the following: I respond to tweets (I tease with them, ‘pun’ with them (often badly), thank them, acknowledge them, appreciate them, retweet them, favorite them.)  I am transparent about who I am in so doing and I believe that transparency transfers into credibility, even if I feel as though I’m hanging my ‘self’ out there in a risky way.  In twitter-land, “U have 2 B U!”

[2] (Lee and Kotler2011: Social Marketing: Influencing Behaviours for Good (4th ed.) p. 206)

[3] Mentoring is just one kind of act of kindness I’m thinking about.  It could be responding to a tweet that sounds ‘down’ (so that you make them feel better), hugging someone who feels bereft of love: Human kindness is about discovering what the other needs and finding a way of providing that need, so that others invest in you in the same way so that you have your needs met at least a little more often.  We are the miracles of this world, for one another.

Congratulations West Jet

A genuine Human Kindness, Christmas Miracle provided by West Jet. Clever marketing?  Sure.  Honest.  Yes.  An act of human kindness? You betcha!!

Human Kindness: The Bottom Line

Human Kindness: The Bottom Line

By: W. Owen Thornton MA


Twitter: @WOThornton

Can we hashtag #WOTHKP and create a twitter community for human kindness?

Linkedin: Owen Thornton, writer and instructor, London, ON. Canada

If anyone were to ask what is behind my human kindness project, the answer is simple and complicated.  In regards to simple I’m asking everyone to practice proactive and spontaneous acts of human kindness. An example of proactive human kindness might be what you would envision when watching the movie Pay It Forward. In that movie a young boy, who is bullied and is living with an alcoholic single mom creates solutions for several people, including his mother, his teacher and a few other miscellaneous folk along the way. What begins is a series of acts of human kindness where people are saving other’s lives and giving away cars in large, magnanimous gestures because someone did something really big for them. I know it’s a movie, but we all know people where something big has happened to them and changed their lives. So I’m asking all of us to do these kinds of things for others. I’ll give you another example in a moment. Spontaneous acts of human kindness are those simple everyday acts like turning around in an elevator and saying hello, holding a door or helping someone pick up a stack of dropped papers … and I’ll say more on that in a moment.

In the world of business, I’m thinking proactive human kindness looks a little bit like the story Eli Wallach’s character tells Kate Winslet’s character in the movie The Holliday. In that movie Wallach tells of the day he delivers a telegram to a major motion picture studio. Once there he realizes that the mail ‘boy’ didn’t come in that day.  Wallach’s character was hired on the spot. He would move up the ranks to become an Oscar-winning writer for that studio. I personally know of a few stories, from people 20 years older than me … making them into their 70s now, who had stories like that … they were hired because their boss used their intuition, noticed that the future employee had ‘something’ and these new hires went on to make a life for themselves because their bosses mentored them. These new employees just didn’t have moderate success. They became owners of businesses all because of a single, simple hands-up gesture and a few good words from a mentor (periodically) along the way. Today it seems as though people are commodities hired to perform a job, based on characteristics or a skill ‘profile’ that makes them the best candidate for that slot. Human kindness in business is about creating leaders, passionately, while allowing ‘individuals’ to utilize their best skills such that they can achieve great things.

How Easy it is to be Unkind

When I think of even simple human kindness gestures, like picking up papers for someone who dropped them, I remind you of my oft-quoted passage from a study conducted in the 1970s. In 1972 Isen and Levin performed the phone booth dime experiment. In cases where 14 people found a dime in a phone booth whereby they turned around and saw a confederate of the experiment drop some papers, 12 of them stopped to help the paper-dropper. Of the 25 who did not find a dime in the phone booth, only one helped the confederate paper-dropper. (Isen and Levin, 1972: 387)  The researchers called the effect of finding the dime or being given a cookie the “warm glow of success” (Isen and Levin, 1972: 384) but it only lasts for a few minutes. So here we find the great objection towards ever doing acts of human kindness for others … once we are in a mode, it’s very difficult to break it. So if we ignore others, we fail to see their needs and we won’t practice human kindness towards them. If we are always self-absorbed then we can walk past people who pass out on the sidewalk. 

In retelling the John Darley and Daniel Batson Princeton seminarian study we see how the frame that we’re in prevents us from changing to a different frame. In that study two groups of seminarians are asked to deliver a talk on the Good Samaritan story. One group is told that they are already late while the second is told they have time, but might as well head over to the building where they are going to deliver their talk. Along the pathway between buildings individuals of both groups find a homeless confederate of the test. Of those in a hurry, only 10 percent stopped to help, while of those who had time, 63 percent stopped to help. The point is that seminarians, who would state that one reason why they entered ministry is to help the homeless, will sometimes step over the body of a homeless person while on the way to delivering a talk about a Samaritan who, in that story, helps a victimized person.  Today we lead exceedingly busy lives and so I believe we are more inclined to keep on keeping on, rather than thinking about being kind to one another. Hence, I write a web blog about human kindness, where, if you link to is you get regular messages reminding you of what’s important … living in a world where you help others, so that they help others and so on.

Why It’s Hard to Be Kind

I believe that, in part, we also don’t think to be proactively kind because we don’t really know how to do it. When you watch Pay It Forward, helping others looks easy, but I don’t think it is. Even the lead character played by Haley Joel Osment believes that all his efforts have gone to waste. The viewer only sees the aftermath of Osment’s actions, long after the young boy has given up on his project to change the world (in a big way). Why is it so hard to help others? Well for one thing we are complicated beings and it’s often difficult to even see what someone else needs. Heck, I don’t often know what I need for myself, let alone garner deep insight into someone else’s life, and then create an act of human kindness that will actually propel the other person to personal joy and happiness. And when you consider that we bury many of the problems we have to overcome so that no one can see them, this makes it doubly hard to identify just exactly what is wrong and then to know just exactly what we ought to do about it even ‘if’ we could identify the problem. I’m thinking here that many suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or addiction and we do our absolute utmost to prevent others from seeing we suffer from these problems. Last, I think that we also have a, ‘it’s personal’ or a ‘better not get involved in another person’s life’ attitude which seems more prevalent today than it was say 60 or so years ago. So it is difficult to both identify problems, to get close enough to people to allow them to open up and be honest and to then identify the right human kindness action we ought to perform to help them.

I suppose too, we might be afraid to risk taking action for fear we might make matters worse. In cases like this, there are real reasons to not jump in and help, in case we jump in and ‘hinder’. One thing we forget about in cases like this is that any action done from a genuine motive to help others as best as we can does stem from a position of caring for the other. We have to at least give credit where credit is due. It’s as the old adage says, “It is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.” So in some cases, it may well be better to have attempted an action that brings about a positive result for others than to have never made the attempt at all. “Flubbing it” at least demonstrates that we cared enough to try! We can forgive a great many failings when the motivation is about caring.

Maybe we don’t make the attempt to help others because we don’t want to be seen as presumptuous … that in my looking at your life and my seeing what you need to make it better is egotistical and bespeaks of paternalism or parentalism … a sense that I know what is best for you when you don’t know what is best for yourself. Again, I suggest that motive means everything here. Consultants and good business leaders will tell you that the need for consultants stems from the fact that the company cannot see how it is standing in the way of its own success, whereas a consultant can walk in and ask, “Why are you doing things this way when they are ineffective?” Often, then, it is the person who is parachuted into an established situation who can see the trees separate from the forest and who can make sense of what is going on.  Along the same lines, when a visionary is hired in a corporate position they can cease being a visionary because they become a part of the way things are done and they come to accept the status quo rather than continue to challenge it.  So it is often that outsiders are ‘the’ people who can see what is needed or required in order to bring about new and different results.

Bottom Line words that must attach themselves to human kindness then must include: respect for the self and others; caring for the self and others; leading; being a visionary; risk taking in order to bring about the positive flourishing of others; loving; knowing that change for the better cannot mean continuing to do things the same way; service leadership. These are just some of the words I associate with human kindness. 

Human kindness must be about making the world a better place … a world where when people cannot help themselves or who don’t know how to help themselves are assisted by a kind ‘other’. We all get stuck some times. We all need someone who cares about us enough to help us become ‘unstuck’. The world I want to live in is one were people stick their noses into my business for my sake and make my world better. Hopefully, I have the good insight to thank them when I notice what they’ve done for me.

Yours in human kindness


The Human Kindness Selfie

The Human Kindness Selfie

By: W. Owen Thornton MA


Twitter: @WOThornton

Can we hashtag #WOTHKP and create a twitter community for human kindness?

Linkedin: Owen Thornton, writer and instructor, London, ON. Canada

I see your eyes spinning: what has he come up with now?  Seriously, it’s a simple concept.  You know that I encourage you to be proactively and spontaneously kind to others.  Proactive human kindness means researching what someone else needs for themselves (when they may not know what they need for themselves) and in so doing, well, that creates work.  Spontaneous acts of kindness are the simple everyday things, like holding open a door, starting a free coffee chain at your local Tim Horton’s (coffee shop), carrying someone’s stack of materials, or offering a friendly hello or a smile.  And you know that I believe that in order for you to be able to be kind towards others, that you cannot be a grumpy-guss.  So, you have to be kind towards your ‘self’ in order to have the time, willingness and energy to be kind towards others.

So, being kind to your ‘self’ is like performing a human kindness ‘selfie’, right?  It means doing something nice for yourself so that you have the energy, the desire and the creativity to be able to do something kind for someone else when the time is right.  This life leads to burn-out on so many levels.  Most often, burn out is attributed to work life, but we can also get burned out caring for a loved one, especially in situations where extensive round-the-clock care demands more from us than we actually might have.  And we can simply get worn down by a series of unfortunate or catastrophic events.  You know what I mean if you’ve ever attended a host of funerals in a series of just a few months or even weeks!  Now, when you’re down, your primary responsibility is to look after you.  Let the rest of the universe pick up the Human Kindness slack, if you will.  But human kindness selfies are designed to proactively prevent you from getting so down in energy that you cannot help others.

What do human kindness selfies look like?  Well, honestly they look like anything that gives you pleasure or energy.  Listening to Neil Diamond (sorry Ernie!), going for a walk, taking a massage, meditating to purify the darkened soul, going golfing (and this example is one I would never utilize to restore my soul, but we are all different n’est pas?) … virtually anything that rejuvenates you and makes to feel like playing with the rest of us.  If I were to write to someone whom I don’t know, someone who ‘may’ have the opportunity to practice human kindness towards me, I’d write to them and tell them to do what you love and to do things for your ‘self’.  I would want them to be in a good place, mentally so that when they meet me they are able to listen, to care, to respect and to appreciate me and what it is I am saying.  If I need the sale, need a job, or need the contact of someone who can help me, I would want to meet them when they are feeling like they are willing and able to do so.

Something that may well war against a Human Kindness Selfie is the general hub and bub of negativity we find in today’s media.  Newscasts are filled with negative news.  Studies indicate that bad news leads off over 80 percent of the time.  While we desire to be informed, if we are news hounds we are taking negative ‘stuff’ inside of us more often than good stuff.  So, I monitor my information intake in order to get more good ‘stuff’ than bad.  I also find reality television shows to be like watching train wrecks.  The competitions may be interesting, but to win a dance competition everyone else has to be eliminated … we watch more crying than triumphing.  In other shows, other than direct, voting competitions we watch people connive against one another in order to win money.  The question is, ‘why do we want to watch how people can lie, cheat and steal to win’ when we know we are a summary of all that we take inside our selves?  Everything we take in reinforces our character.  Aristotle wrote that if you want to know what a virtuous person is like, to immerse yourself in following someone who does the right thing for the right reasons … and watching someone harm others to get to the top, wouldn’t be amongst that list.  Aristotle knew that habituation of action, eating, living, breathing the best of life … that that was the wat to becoming a virtuous person.  If, and I believe this to be true, if we are great readers of the atmosphere around us and if we are wondrous imitators because we want to ‘be like others’ and if that atmosphere around us is negative then we will be negative towards others.

So my concern here about human kindness selfies is that we won’t even ‘think’ about doing nice things for ourselves because we are caught up in a modality of negativity which will breed a model of negativity.  And if we won’t do nice things for ourselves, then we really won’t perform acts of human kindness towards others, proactive or spontaneous.  I don’t care what you want to achieve for yourself.  If you are a leader in business and everyone around you is a naysayer, you have to find a way to limit or cognitively become aware of that naysaying atmosphere so that you can purge it and embrace the spirit of positivity.  We are incredible beings.  We can literally do anything … as long as we are playing towards our own giftedness (I am not going to become an actuary because I hate math, but a math lover could become the greatest actuary alive) we can help each other achieve marvelous goals.  And when all of us are happier, we are healthier too.  Happiness, just like a wall of negativity, is also catching.  So you have to ask yourself which world do you want to live in, the one that readily included negativity and harm towards others, or the one that practices human kindness?

So go on, do that wonderful ‘selfie’ for yourself.  Then you can be wonderful towards me, and I, in turn – or so we hope, anyways – will do something wonderful for someone else and suddenly many, many more of us are living our dreams!  That’s the way it is ‘supposed’ to work and I believe that IS the way that it really works.



Human Kindness … the Hard Way

Human Kindness … the Hard Way

By: W. Owen Thornton MA


Twitter: @WOThornton

Can we hashtag #WOTHKP and create a twitter community for human kindness?

Linkedin: Owen Thornton, writer and instructor, London, ON. Canada

The question is, should we practice human kindness towards an individual who either doesn’t know they need human kindness or doesn’t want human kindness? Your next question might be, exactly just what do I mean?

Those who don’t know they need human kindness


First, I believe we all tend to be a rolling stone.  What I mean, is we all get on a path and tend to stay on it.  In a philosophical paper I wrote, I discussed how we can select what we believe to be is a good path, but that we can be wrong about the nature of that path.  Then, because there is an ethical position in being loyal towards an idea or an action or a series of actions we stick with the initial path we have chosen.  Because our intent was positive when taking this initial action, even if later on, we see that the action is not yielding the results we desire we tend to stick with it.  So we can think we remain ‘ethical’ or act as a good person ought to act by sticking with an ‘unethical’ action.  So, for example, we can follow orders because it has been previously determined that it is good to follow orders, but, we can be duped, while in the mode to follow BAD orders.  In this case the individual is doing an action or series of actions that doesn’t bring about a positive result for themselves or others.  The thing is they don’t realize they are acting unethically in the big picture and they may not appreciate anyone helping to bring them back on to an ethical course.

Now let me write something about what I believe happens to the person in this mindset before I begin to consider whether or not we ought to practice human kindness towards this individual.  This person is on a bad path but cannot see it for themselves.  Sometimes we have to create a space for them to exist which gives them permission to reconsider their actions and in so doing, they see the error for themselves.  Were we to attempt to force them to change, we could force them to admit they were wrong, and seeing as we don’t like to admit to being wrong in front of others … our actions could erroneously entrench them into continuing to do the wrong thing.  This ‘space’ I’m suggesting that we create for others would be difficult to bring about, but it is doable.  I’m thinking of the kind of scenario here of someone suffering from an addiction where somehow, miraculously, the individual can admit their error and find help as they would in say the Alcoholic Anonymous movement.  Let me be clear, the addiction aspect of this section acts as an example and is not necessarily the only kind of behaviour I’m talking about.  Addiction just gives us a familiar example for many of us.  In other words, individuals practicing human kindness towards someone who doesn’t know they need help is like the old expression, “you can lead a horse to water, but, you can’t make it drink”.

Now, under the above circumstances, the answer as to whether or not we ought to practice human kindness towards someone found in this position – that of traveling down a dark path – well, the answer is … YES!  We must practice human kindness toward them to help them to help themselves.  It could be that the person is some kind of addict, sure.  But it could also be that someone is angry at a family member for 20 years, where the anger and the incident no longer really matter and all the person is doing is robbing themselves of the joy of reconnecting (… and holding onto the negative energy of the reticent anger which can actually manifest in poor health, so holding on to negative energy can be doubly bad)!  Now in regards to helping these folk to help themselves, acts of human kindness have two score cards.  Here’s what I mean about that.

There are the kinds of acts of human kindness that any of us can see and immediately measure.  This idea reflects the readily identifiable scorecard.  When these acts work, it does feel a little bit like scoring the winning goal in game seven of the Stanley Cup, or the World Series!  But there are also the kinds of acts of human kindness that we practice that fall dead upon the cold wintry ground and appear to have no effect.  This idea reflects the less identified score card.  While there is a tangible reward in the first case because we can readily identify the change in another and thereby know we have made the world a better place, in the second instance, we have changed nothing … on the surface.  But that doesn’t mean we ought not to have tried or that the universe will not reward you for your actions.  I believe that all kinds of human kindness actions, regardless of whether or not they succeed or fail, do create a positive energy in the universe and that somehow, this positive energy will come back to visit you in ways you too may not recognize!  We do perform actions of human kindness to help others and to hope that our actions somehow ricochet back at us, but we dare not expect that to happen, because if that is our only motive … well somehow that positive action becomes tainted.  Like Immanuel Kant, we ought to do the right thing, because it is the right thing to do and not because we ourselves benefit from it directly.  I’m going to call these folk we’re ‘rescuing with acts of human kindness’ the ignorant, in the true sense of the world in that they simply don’t know and cannot see that what they are doing to themselves and/or others is harmful.  But we can ‘illuminate’ them in a kind manner and change their lives, their behaviour and the results of their actions can become positive once again.

Those who don’t believe they are worthy of human kindness

Second, there are those who may be on the wrong path who do not want anyone to help them.  Look, I believe that sociologists and psychologists may well tell us that there is some small percentage of the population who truly don’t care about the kinds of ethical things that the rest of us care about and acts of human kindness for these folk may well be a waste of time (but could still result in a net positive effect for the universe (which would be VERY difficult to discern)).  These folk may well be lost to us and to any act of human kindness.  But for those who ‘believe they don’t want’ another’s help, well these are the folk who ‘believe they are lost’.  Acts of human kindness for these folk may have to be many before they believe they are worthy of help, may have to be different and diverse to get through the negative inner self talk, and may stretch our ability to perform acts of kindness because we, as the “kind actors” simply cannot see how we can ev-ver get through to them.  In cases of people who believe they are lost, it takes more love, more human kindness than it appears some of us even possess.  But does that mean we ought to stop performing acts of human kindness towards this group?  I suppose, if we have tried a really good plan a number of times AND if we have tried a lot of different acts of human kindness and none of them seem to work, it may feel like we’re throwing away good energy after bad.  It does take a special person to save a lost soul.  But … those kind of rescuers ARE out there, and they should never, never give up, because if you’re like me, you too believe that every soul is precious, every soul is worth saving, every soul is worth all the effort we can muster to save it.  In this case stubborn perseverance may be the gift that gives real life to someone who is hurting or suffering or … acting unethically.  Maybe we aren’t the one doing the extra-ordinary human kindness actions?  Maybe what we CAN do is help those who help others through our own smaller acts of kindness, including donations to charity, or, say, writing a blog about human kindness?

Everyone has a role to play in the lives of others.  We are both independent beings and interdependent beings simultaneously.  We are alone and together.  Separate and joined.  We all need a place to win in this life.  And if you’re someone who likes to help others and you’re feeling like you can’t go on helping … today, it is okay to stop and recharge your own soul.  It is okay to turn to others and bask in the acts of human kindness others can offer you.  In the case of those who don’t want human kindness practiced on their behalf we must fight stronger, longer, more creatively and harder.  But ought we to continue practicing acts of human kindness even for those who believe they aren’t worthy of them?  It is the lost of our society who needs these actions the absolute most.  So yes …

Go forth, and practice Human Kindness even if you believe that act is not required or desired!  (And please, dear friend, find a back-up support network when your own energy is flagging!)

Yours in kindness



About the Creator

  Update November 07, 2013:

writing about human kindness    
  • how we ought to do it
  • what human kindness 'looks like'
  • why we don't practice human kindness (sometimes)
  • being kind to self ('cause if we're not, we leave little space to be kind to others)
  • thinking of others
  • doing the little things for others
  • sometimes, doing the big acts of kindness for self AND others
  • asking for help from you about great examples of human kindness
W. Owen Thornton MA
Also Ph.D. ABD (all but dissertation) (Philosophy)
twitter: at @WOThornton
on Facebook: Owen Thornton, London, ON
on linkedin: Owen Thornton -- writer and instructor

We are both independent and interdependent creatures. When I'm independent, I'm for myself, doing for myself, being for myself. This is good! When I'm interdependent I do for others. This is also good. Both parts of me are important. Sometimes they are happening at the same time. Some times they switch in and out faster than I myself can identify. Sometimes I get stuck in the independent mode for too long. This website suggests that sometimes, we need each other more than we might like to admit. The world goes better with just a little bit of human kindness.

Human Kindness, Yesses, and Bucket Lists

Human Kindness, Yesses, and Bucket Lists

By W. Owen Thornton

As you well know, I have written that human kindness begins at home with … well … you! I think everyone must have a bucket list whether the list is formalized or not. Bucket lists can reflect the “you” of your true inner core.  Denying or failing to do something about all aspects of your list suggests a certain degree of unkindness towards your ‘self’. And, if you are unkind towards your ‘self’ that leaves little positive energy to be kind towards anyone else … and this website does encourage you to be kind to others primarily.

Two Improbable Bucket List Items

I have four bucket list items that I want to share with you and why they are on my list and I’m going to share with you what I’m going to do about at least two of these items. First, I’ve always wanted to have dinner with William Shatner. For me, “Bill” to his friends, represents Jim Kirk first and foremost. Kirk was THE guy.  He was a man who always knew what result he wanted, even if he didn’t exactly always know how to bring it about. For example he’d break the number one Star Fleet rule of non-interference if it meant defending or helping a friend. Another reason I like him? Years after Star Trek the series was off the air we’d learn that few of the cast members really liked Shatner the actor, but Kirk, the captain taught me how to be a stalwart friend. In fact, he taught me about male relationships even further decades later when he stared in Boston Legal. You CAN have deep, meaningful male relationships, full of robust emotions without appearing weak or weird. I later learned another reason to admire William Shatner. He would go on to write that one of his greatest achievements was to get Leonard Nimoy to like him in real life. So … he’s tenacious and that too is a quality I admire.

Later, when I learned more about Shatner’s life, I learned that he was a superlative self promoter who, even when times went bad, he still managed to plug through the tough times of his life. I want to meet him because I have heard and believe that you cannot have the qualities you exhibit in a role without having some of those qualities within you as a person. I’ve attempted to write fan mail to Mr. Shatner over the years but none of it has ever reached him. I have problems with hero worship in that I would like to touch base with my favorite stars but it is weird having a one-way relationship where someone comes into your home on a regular basis through the TV but they don’t know you from a hole in the wall. You ‘think’ you know them, at least a little, but they don’t know a thing about you! I’ve never known how you approach someone like this so that your messages get through and so you don’t look like a geeky stalker.  Well, self admittedly, I may be a geek! 

Second, I’ve also wanted to meet Nathan Fillion since the first season of his hit season Castle. I would later discover and purchase his one-season dynamic series Firefly and watching that show sealed the deal as he was also another heroic star ship captain, although of quite a different kind from Kirk. In addition both Mr. Shatner and Mr. Fillion are Canucks so that makes them extra interesting to me because they both come from my home country. Ironically Nathan Fillion’s character, Rick Castle, has “meet Mr. Shatner” on his own bucket list, which I find funny and ironic. I love the character Castle for his innate ability to play and to have fun and to lighten the mood whenever possible. I would like to know a person like him and to have another person like Rick in my own life (while I have many wonderful real friends, there is always room for one more, eh?). I love the concept of Castle too … that ‘quote’ real life murder mysteries are always best solved by finding the story that makes the most sense. As a long-time writer of many unpublished novels, I find myself being just a little like Rick. I also think Castle is a warm, loving fellow who is a bit of an outlier … he’s wonderful but not part of the ‘in crowd’ because he’s a bit odd in his life approach or perhaps, his life approach is oft misunderstood by most others. But he has a wonderful relationship with his mother, even if he feigns that it’s strained or awkward and he has raised a perfectly wonderful daughter despite being a single parent, so he’s got something … he’s got a way about him that gets under your skin in the most wonderful way and, I figure, anyone who can portray that kind of character, must have those characteristics in him. But again, I don’t really know how to approach people like him and so this item on my bucket list will also go unexplored.

Two partially doable Bucket List Items

But not everything on a bucket list can be of the non-explorable cast.  I have two other pet ideas right now and on those two, I CAN do something quite positive. Third, I would like to write and star in an episode of CASTLE. While I know the long odds of selling a story to the creators of an existing television show is nil and that my high school acting days are looooong over, I could at least, write this screenplay for myself. In fact, I just googled, found, and reserved a book on writing for television just now. The brilliant thing about the internet is that you can move forwards, a little bit, on your bucket list while you’re sitting at your computer creating your bucket list.

My fourth bucket list item is to write and star in a movie with Cameron Diaz. While a part of my dream, ‘the staring in a movie with Cameron Diaz’ is admittedly a space-launch kind of long shot, the sitting down and writing the movie part is not difficult for me. So once I have started in on the process of my TV script, I’ll begin to write that screenplay, starting in a similar place: Googling how to write a movie script. I’ve done that kind of work before, but forget some of the technical lay-out.

Why Pursue Bucket List Items?

Look … you may ask what is the point of this partial bucket list count down, especially in relation to my principle theme of human kindness. Fair question. Here’s my answer. Doing something you want to do for you is liberating. Not doing something you want to do is stultifying, debilitating. Human kindness is often about a yes versus a no. If we can build up a track record of yesses, then yes becomes a mantra we hear more often. Watch Jim Carey’s Yes Man for affirmation of this sentiment!) Yesses make for more yesses. And if yesses put us in a position to build human kindness, then we ought to do more things that create yesses so that we are in the right kind of mindset to do more things that promote human kindness.

Bucket lists, as far as I can see them, anyways, are lists of things we want to get around to, but see no practical way of bringing them about.  Sometimes just laying them ‘out there’ is part of what we have to do in order to have a chance of making them come to fruition (nice word, eh?).  (In laying them out there, some times that is what gives others the opportunity to invoke a random act of kindness that could help you achieve that seemingly undoable item from your bucket list.) But even if we don’t have a clue about how to bring about some items of our bucket list, there are those that we can pursue and achieve. Carpe diem, or seize the day means grabbing the bucket list by the horns and wrestling with the items in it in order to make the parts of it we desire come true. In the end, doing something towards our bucket list helps us to be happier. It helps us to discover what kinds of things are REALLY important to us too. One success may give us the power to say, aloud, that bucket list item that we have not even dared to acknowledge even to our ‘selves’. And there’s power in the kind of liberating freedom as well, eh? So say your bucket list items aloud, do those elements of them that you can do for yourself and create, in the end, a kind of positive energy that moves you forward in the kindest way possible.

Human Kindness: Straightaway Syndrome

The Rollercoaster
By W. Owen Thornton

Life runs like a rollercoaster with blind curves, steep hills, and deep valleys. In this real world picture we need human kindness in spades. We all know this. We all know that when we are pushing uphill, like I am right now in a job search, that we need others to help us along. And when we get blind-sided with our own, or a friend or loved one's trauma just around that curve, we also know we need our go-to friends and relatives to help us through the tough times. We will even acknowledge that when things are all going smoothly downhill that we probably have someone who performed an act of human kindness to set us up at the top of this smooth running time in our lives. In this world, then, when we all KNOW what to expect, why don't we experience more random acts of human kindness?

I think I know why. I believe while we all know that life IS a rollercoaster that we all want to pretend it's a clear straightaway. What do I mean by that? Let me see if I can explain. We take the average times for granted. We WANT good times to keep on rolling. And ... life does have a way of looking like that. Think about the routine of your life. While it may not be a scintillating routine, it is a routine all the same. I know, for example, that I take my own achievements for granted. I don't think to communicate all the things that are happening to me because they happen every day. The straightaways of our life seem to take over. Everything just seems right. It's like the story of Goldilocks, you know, where everything seems, 'just right'. I think, though I don't think life would be very interesting if this straightaway syndrome were actually true, that we actually HOPE our lives will be routine ... at least a little bit. Remember that the expression, "May you live in interesting times," is not a well-wishing sentiment, but a curse, because 'interesting' also includes all the crisis we will face ... in fact, that expression is a curse to ensure the person will live a life from crisis to crisis. But how does this straightaway syndrome impact human kindness?

"IF", and that's a really big 'if', IF the world really was a straightaway we wouldn't really need human kindness or 'acts there of'.  (I know, that last line was reversed ... sorta like Yoka-speak!)  Because we think we want the world to be like a straightaway, we can convince ourselves that we don't need help from others and that we don't have to help others either. Why do we want a straightaway life?

First, I think we want a straightaway life because we are naturally fearful of the hills and curves. It's not wrong to be fearful of the unexpected when that unexpected could be a job loss (the threat of losing your self because we too readily identify our selves with our vocation or the threat of losing your own life or the life of someone you love). Second, there are a lot of long, and sometimes tedious straightaways in our lives. Be not deceived by this. As the Buddhist would say, "nothing is permanent" (and yet Buddhism acknowledges the routine of life too, when it notices the cycles of the moon repeating over and over again -- so the moon is different every day and the same  every 28 days (but it is not in the same place in the sky ... very ... deep? ).  Third, thinking life is a straightaway instead of a rollercoaster lets us all go on autopilot. We know what to do and how to react to the mundane and because we're skilled at this, we become comfortable in our routine or "rut" (depending on whether it is more or less joyful or more or less soul-sucking). In this third reason why we 'want a straightaway life' we don't have to 'think' ... we don't have to be 'on', we don't have to practice acts of random kindness towards others because the world just is and it just goes on and this line of thinking denies the FACT that we NEED EACH OTHER!  We are both independent and interdependent creatures. This synchronous dichotomy is a real stickler!  (And yes, that was a very cool sentence!)

I think this world focusses too much on our being totally dependent and denies the vital importance of our interdependence ... our absolutely vital human need for one another. Look, I recently joined linked in and I wrote about an essay that I myself concocted.  Linked in asked who collaborated with me on the article. Well, the truth is, no one did. There is and ought not to be anyone else's name beneath the title. But another truth is, that everyone I met, and every resource I used had a part to play in the creation of that article (for they had an influence on how I wrote it and what material I used). Ought I to say that I and everyone in the universe helped write that article. Well no, that would be rather silly, but, deep in our subconscious minds we all know that ... yes, every single person I know and every single person all those people know had a role to play in the creation of that essay.

This life is very, very weird. We are unique creators, AND a miniscule part of the whole. We fall in love with one part and forget the other and we vacillate between the two of these parts, often getting it wrong as to which one we should be honoring at any given moment. When we think we did it all ourselves, we should probably be honoring someone who helped us along the way. When we attribute something to someone else, we tend to ignore the part we ourselves played in the entire operation. Human kindness ... that's always on the side of the community ... the part of the world we forget far too often. Look, I do have achievements and I acknowledge that they are mine because I did them ... but if I get too hung up on the "I", then I forget the other and ... I forget to practice human kindness. Maybe human kindness is the 'thing' we ought to remember at all times, for the following reason.

If we forget about human kindness too long, or, if we think for too long that we don't need anyone else, then we may find ourselves in a position where no one cares to help us at the quintessential time that we do need others. I mean, if we are lonely, successful self-made creeps who don't pay attention to others, who will be there when we need them? Human kindness may be a self-defense mechanism that keeps us going just at that moment when the downhill ride stops and the nasty hills and curves begin.

Look. I get being self absorbed in your own life.  We all get that way. Maybe no one gets that any more than I do. That's why I do this ... that's why I write about human kindness ... to remind myself and you that we must ... constantly ... think ... about ... others. If we're going to get through this life with any amount of joy and human flourishing, it will be with the help of others (it will be because of others) ... so we had better be thinking about helping them proactively along the way. The perfect straightaway life is deceptive myth. It exists on a temporary basis but is not what we should consider to be the ONLY truth. It is only a part of life and the way to remember that it is a fallacy is to remember to practice ... you guessed it ... human kindness all along the way.



Degrees of Human Kindness

Degrees of Human Kindness
By W. Owen Thornton

There are degrees of human kindness. In the movie Pay It Forward, the character played by Haley Joel Osment does the hard 'human kindness' work for someone else ... the kind of hard thing the individual cannot do for themselves. This kind of human kindness work takes effort and thought to attempt to do the right thing for the person that will help them out of whatever 'rut' they are in. While these kinds of heroic acts can move the world -- and, I do ask this of you and of myself -- sometimes it's the little things that trigger human kindness. 

Simple recognition can be all it takes. Shoot. While I was doing one kind thing for both myself and my brother -- by spending hours on the highway driving to his house for a lovely visit -- I missed saying happy thanksgiving to a few other good friends. However, they were wise enough to send me quick emails wishing me a happy thanksgiving. What a lovely gesture to come home to ... to see two people out of the electronic ether thinking of me long and hard enough to send a simple message of happy thanksgiving.  They showed me up in a way that reminds me to be kind, every day ... simply and easily.

Naturally the kind thing to do in return is to acknowledge their good wishes with a nice and quick response of your own. 

Sometimes we let this return action slide. We ought not to, you know. In effective communications courses you will learn that feedback acknowledges and recognizes the other person, completing the communication cycle. Acknowledgement says, "I heard you" and "I thank you," in a way that silence can never fulfill. Now there IS something you CAN do even if you forget to respond or, if, accidently, you don't see the email right away. A quick apology for being late and then genuinely returning the well wishes usually fulfills the communication cycle without concern for any harm due to tardiness. Remember too, that it is never too late to respond with a kind word.  Sometimes, even if it is years late ... though you may have to back peddle and apologize a little more in this case!

I have a friend who keeps track of all important dates in the lives of the people he has brushed against.  He takes time each day to call people on their birthday. Sometimes his is the only call I receive ON the actual day of my birth ... my wife always wishes me well in person!   What's really cool about my friend's kindness habit is that he didn't stop doing this even when he became my Member of Parliament. So one birthday I got a call from Europe wishing me well. I tell people me MP calls me on my birthday. I make it sound like, "doesn't everyone's MP call them on their birthday?" I'm teasing, naturally, but that doesn't make it any less cool to receive the call from my ... MP.

So, remember, it doesn't take a LOT to practice human kindness in a way that builds someone up or that makes someone feel good about themselves.

Be kind to one another out there, eh?  Sometimes and act of human kindness is very easy to perform and takes virtually no time at all.

Love and Kindness

Owen Thornton