Think of your toughest relationship. Think of a relationship that is good but could be great. Think of a group of people that drives you nuts. You want to show more kindness and generosity, but sometimes you’re just tired, stretched, and frustrated. Besides, would small actions make that big a difference? Yes!
After years of extensive research, Shaunti Feldhahn has concluded that kindness is a superpower. It can change any relationship, make your life easier and better, and transform our culture. But how does it work? And how can you show kindness when you don’t feel like it?
Shaunti Feldhahn is a Christian author and speaker, and this is just what the title says it is, a 30-Day Kindness Challenge, if you want it to be. And if you don't want to take part in anything quite that formal (I'm not a one-size-fits-all sort of person myself), there are tips, anecdotes, suggestions and stats all through the book which you can pick and choose from. I'll just mention some of the ones which stuck out most to me.
One of the most common themes of my reading lately is that we have to watch our thought lives. It's what you put into your mind and focus on that will come out of your mouth. This book is no exception.
It seems many of us might live under the delusion that we are kinder people than we actually are. I can buy that. A few interesting stories indicate that we tend to be more reactive and irritable than we think we are. I'm probably guilty of that around my place at times (very rarely, lol), since family members may pick up on my grouchiness quicker than I even acknowledge it to myself.
Feldhahn talks about the argument that we may need to vent our spleen to let off steam. I'm sure we're all familiar with the line of reasoning. What's inside has to come out, or it festers and swells, and the person eventually bursts with all their repressed annoyances and complaints. That always sounded fair enough to me, but it does seem to contradict the idea that we should always make kindness a habit. I wondered how Shaunti Feldhahn would tackle it. Well, she believes that giving the grumbles head space in the first place is the main problem. Anything we choose to just shrug off and refuse to acknowledge doesn't grow bigger, but withers up and dies for lack of being fed. In other words, when it comes to kindness, 'Fake it til you make it' is a more suitable motto than, 'Better out than in.' It's an interesting view that I quite like.
She addresses the subject of sarcasm, and I was pleased that she distinguished between what she calls good-natured trash talk, and truly ill-natured remarks designed to hurt. It was more realistic sounding than advice to avoid sarcasm at all costs would have been, which I have come across before. My family would suffer if we were never allowed to use sarcasm. I've heard it called the lowest form of wit, but it does cheer us up at times, and defuse tense situations.
Now, can you critique a book about kindness kindly? The thing with book reviewers is that we're open to finding new ways of not coming down too hard, but I did have a couple of gripes. My first is that are bullet points everywhere. I think there are even bullet points within bullet points. I actually like lists, but they get to a point where they lose their effectiveness and stop being memory tools, when we're inundated with them. And you don't necessarily even need them all. Some self-help books slide into condescension, and this had moments of heading in that direction. For example, do we really need a list of possible ways of giving praise to family members? Surely we know our own spouses and kids better than she does, and have enough imagination to come up with our own praise points.
Some of her points about praise were good though. Some people believe we shouldn't bother saying thanks to a person for things they're supposed to do, because it's their job. But I agree with Feldhahn, that when we do, it's like filling a fuel tank, and prevents those people feeling like they're being taken for granted. It's this sort of small consideration which might actually turn out to make an enormous difference. Overall, it's not a bad read which may make us realise we're not as kind as we thought we were, and offer tips to give us an edge in the art of kindness.
Thanks to Waterbrook Press and Blogging for Books for giving me a review copy through NetGalley
Paula Vince is a South Australian author of contemporary, inspirational fiction. She lives in the beautiful Adelaide Hills, with its four distinct seasons, and loves to use her environment as settings for her stories. Her novel, 'Picking up the Pieces' won the religious fiction section of the International Book Awards in 2011, and 'Best Forgotten' was winner of the CALEB prize the same year. She is also one of the four authors of 'The
Legacy', Greenfield 's first and only collaborated Christian novel. Her most recent
novel, 'Imogen's Chance' was published April 2014. For
more of Paula's reflections, you may like to visit her book review blog, The Vince Review. Australia