Mandy Haskett: Kindness acknowledges that you truly see another person

What’s on your wish list this holiday season?

Many of us are busy trying to check off a long list of gift requests, coordinate holiday traditions, and wrap up end-of-year projects so we can receive our simple wish—time with the ones we love.

But underneath that wish is one that’s even greater and more unifying: time to be seen and heard.

For hundreds of years, African Bushmen have greeted each other with this refrain. When one of them becomes aware of another coming through the brush, he/she exclaims, “I see you!” and the one approaching triumphs, “I am here!”

This simple greeting holds the profound antidote to so much of our life’s suffering—to be seen and heard as who we are. The people who validate us by seeing us and then proclaiming so help us to claim our worth.

Too often, we (OK, I) slip easily into the work of the holiday season. I can let perfection rob me of my presence, causing me to squander the simple, still moments as I speed through each to-do.

The purpose of giving, though, is an affirmation between two people: one showing the other appreciation for their mere being. In its naked state, a gift says, “I see you.”

Studies show that kindness can change the behavior of our genes—reducing inflammation that leads to cancer and disease, while boosting the antibodies that inoculate us. We also know that leaders who acknowledge and appreciate have a more profound impact on their people.

Could kindness be an antidote to our strife?

I read an article in the Los Angeles Times announcing a $20 million gift from philanthropists Jennifer and Matthew C. Harris to begin the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute, which has a mission to promote a more humane world through the study—and spread—of kindness.

In the piece, L.A. Times writer Teresa Watanabe shares the academic definition of kindness as “an act that enhances the welfare of others as an end in itself. When it comes to kindness, the intention, rather than the outcome, is key. … It’s sending a donation to a charity even if the check gets lost in the mail. It’s contemplating a legitimate reason why a driver who cuts you off might be in a hurry.”

In training leaders, we teach self-awareness first. Why? It’s leaders’ own self-awareness that allows them to respond to their environments, rather than simply react to them. To assume positive intent on behalf of the person or situation grating against us is the first step to fostering true human connection. How different might our holiday dinner tables feel if we assumed positive intent in practice?

Small gestures not only impact the giver and receiver, but become contagious to their witness. To proliferate kindness is to inspire others along the way. Include those beyond your family and friends this year. Stretch yourself to show more distant associations that you see them—your local postal worker, dry cleaner, barista or total stranger. There will be a ripple effect.

We can even hack into our own hardwired drives to connect. Watanabe details one UCLA experiment, in which people who simply watched a video clip of someone showing kindness became more likely to donate money than those who watched a video without such charitable actions.

But before we extend kindness to others, we must first extend it to ourselves. If perpetual kindness triggers the evolution of our species, let us begin by loving ourselves so we can love those around us more fully.

More specifically, if the strings of lights are broken, the red wine gets spilled, the garland doesn’t match, the delivery doesn’t arrive in time, or you forgot about the preschool book exchange because you were focused on fighting cold/flu season, release self-judgment. Sink into the grace-soaked knowledge that you’re enough as you are. First, see you. Then, extend that sight to your neighbor. It’s the greatest gift you can give the world.

These concepts of self-love and kindness toward one another seem apropos during the holidays. I challenge us to exercise these behaviors in our workplaces, homes and communities year-round.

Poet Mark Nepo writes, “For as stars need open space to be seen, as waves need shore to crest, as dew needs grass to soak into, our vitality depends on how we exclaim and rejoice, ‘I see you!’ ‘I am here!’”•

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Haskett is a leadership consultant at Advisa, a Carmel-based leadership consultancy.

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