Kindness improves health; kindness changes people; kindness heals and changes us. A special commemorative episode marking the birthday of the Compassion Parenting podcast!
The Healing Power of Kindness
My friends, happy birthday! Today marks the birthday of my podcast and it also marks the birthday of my mother, so in honor of these, I thought I’d share something that’s been on my heart for over a year: a message about the Healing Power of Kindness.
Now, as a mother I’ve learned to be patient, to know that everything has its gestation–even ideas. I’ve been working for some time on a book called Compassion Parenting. And one underlying premise of the whole concept of compassion is the immense & inherent value of a human soul. Another is that kindness matters.
Let me take you on a journey through a series of stories because that’s how we learn and experience. First a story of rabbits, then candlesticks, then a blue-haired girl, and then, the story of a story.
You might be wondering why I’m telling you all these stories–this isn’t your typical parenting podcast episode. Yet kindness has everything to do with parenting. It is essential in all the most important relationships in our lives, including our relationship with ourselves.
Kindness improves health. Research tells us that being in a nurturing, kind environment can improve blood pressure, immunity, and even prolong life. This isn't to say that kindness cures all ills, but it certainly helps.
Dr. Kelli Harding, in her book, The Rabbit Effect, describes a study on rabbits performed in the 1970’s that puzzled scientists. The experiment was designed to prove that a high fat diet would lead to high cholesterol and heart disease, but when they studied the tiny blood vessels under the microscope, they found one group of rabbits who had 60% less fatty buildup in their blood vessels. They looked for any possible differences between the two groups of rabbits and the only difference they could find was in the care they’d received. The healthier group had been taken care of by a postdoc student who was naturally kind. She pet the rabbits and talked to them as she fed them and cleaned their cage, and this kindness manifested in their physiology.
As a pediatrician, I’ve seen firsthand how kindness influences mental and physical health. I see light shining from kids’ faces and in their eyes. It’s the kindness and love you have put in. It’s visible and tangible. It’s a real thing.
Kindness changes people. Most of us know the story of Les Miserables by Victor Hugo where the main character, Jean Valjean is transformed by kindness. After being imprisoned for many years for stealing a loaf of bread, Valjean is finally released but is treated like an outcast and can’t find work. He gets so desperate, he steals silver from a bishop and when he’s caught, the bishop mercifully claims the silver was a gift and proceeds to give Jean Valjean some silver candlesticks. This act of kindness changes Jean Valjean, and he dedicates his life to goodness.
Even though this story is fictional, we can all relate to it because we’ve seen or experienced the softening that can happen when kindness is extended.
But kindness doesn’t only heal others, it heals us.
Years ago, in addition to taking care of my kids, I was in the midst of caring for my mom who had recently had a stroke. I felt emotionally and physically exhausted.
During that period, as I was driving down the road, I saw a teenage girl with blue hair walking along the sidewalk. She was carrying a backpack almost as big as she was and looked like she’d fall over backwards. She held a red rose in her hand. I felt connected to her immediately, maybe because with the heaviness of what she was carrying, she looked how I felt. I pulled over next to her and asked where she was going. At first, I didn’t feel comfortable offering her a ride because I had a couple of my kids with me in my van (not to mention two cinnamon-colored chairs I was transporting), but I offered to drive her backpack there. She pointed out a bus stop down the street and loaded it in.
I met her at the bus stop with her backpack, but maybe because she had trusted me, I felt I could trust her. I asked her where she was headed on the bus and offered to take her there. While we drove, we talked and when I dropped her off she gave me the red rose. My heart felt happy and I think both of our burdens felt lighter.
For a long time I wondered how it could be so healing to give this stranger a ride, but several years later I found my answer in a small book called Connecting with Eternity
by Forest Dalton. He writes, “The essence of happiness is union. The essence of suffering is separation….Acts of kindness help to liberate us from self-serving behavior, and in the process they help to liberate us from being stuck in the dimension of time. Every act of kindness creates a link between the dimension of time and the eternal now.”
Kindness not only connects us to each other, but it frees us from the constraints of time and situation. It connects us to something bigger.
But we’re imperfect. We’re not always kind. This calls for another layer of compassion–a healing balm for our humanness. It also requires repair work, forgiveness, grace, and sometimes leaves unanswered questions and loose ends.
Still, what needs to happen always happens in time. In fact, I could only finish this podcast episode because of a surprise gift that came in the mail yesterday. A padded goldenrod envelope held the ending of this episode, the closure of an unfinished idea. It was a beautiful children’s book “The Birthday of the World” signed and sent by the author herself (Dr. Rachel Remen) after an online conversation we shared.
In this book, Dr. Remen tells a story her grandfather told her about how the world came to be. He described how light pierced the darkness and broke into millions of pieces entering you and me and all things.
On this birthday of my podcast and birthday of my mother, I’ll read a brief excerpt from, The Birthday of the World:
“When we are kind to people
Or listen to them
Or believe in them
Or love them
Or help them realize their deepest dreams
We help their spark grow bigger and brighter, until their light shines out and fills up the world again…
One spark at a time we can change the world back to the way it was at the beginning—whole and filled with light.”
This is kindness. This is parenthood.
© Mary Illions Wilde, MD