Updated: Apr 13, 2021
“A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.” Luke 6:45
In the 1970s, there was a study done by psychologist John Gottman to uncover the secrets that make or break a marriage relationship. He and his colleague Robert Levenson gathered newlywed couples at their laboratory, called “The Love Lab,” and hooked them up to electrodes.[i] The couples then answered questions about their relationship, including how they met, any major conflicts, and positive memories. Readings were taken on whether an individual was calm and relaxed or showed the “fight or flight” response, even to simple questions.
The couples were then observed over the next six years. According to their results, the researchers separated the couples into two groups: the masters and the disasters. The masters tended to be respectful of and grateful toward their partners. The disasters, on the other hand, were only focused on their partner’s mistakes and were very critical.
The most crucial finding in this entire study is that there is one particular trait that correlated to lasting, stable relationships: kindness. Kindness is like a language of its own that can break through any barrier. It’s the glue that binds together every relationship, not just marriages.
This got me thinking how we can increase the kindness factor in our lives in order to have healthy, long-lasting relationship in our families, our workplaces, and communities. After considerable thought, the conclusion I reached is that the first step is to recognize what it means to be kind, not just act it.
Just like everything else in our culture, we’ve made kindness performance-based. There’s a lot of talk about acts of kindness. If someone gets “caught” buying diapers for a single mom or helping an old lady cross the street or giving money to a homeless man, they become instant celebrities on social media. In fact, people video themselves helping someone less fortunate so that they can post it on Facebook. (I find it interesting how even acts of kindness can become self-serving.)
It’s important to acknowledge that there’s difference between acting kind and being kind. Acts of kindness are fantastic and make us feel warm and fuzzy inside. The problem is that they can make us appear kind, but they don’t make us kind.
And here’s why: kindness is an output, not an input.
Kindness isn’t meant to be an act; it should be part of our character. Our actions flow out from our thoughts and feelings. Our actions don’t typically change how we think and feel, at least not permanently. If they did, we wouldn’t constantly struggle to be in shape, quit drinking, or get over a broken relationship. One workout, one day sober, or one blind date and we would be cured. Likewise, one act of kindness would make us kind to our spouses, children, or co-workers… all the time.
But our mind, will, and emotions direct our actions, not the other way around. Our hearts act as our personal GPS unit directing us where to go, how to act, and what to say. Using the GPS illustration, our words and actions give away our location.
For example, I heard a story recently about a very successful businessman who donated $2 million to construct a new cancer treatment wing for a local hospital. This was a commendable act, so there was a big write-up in the paper about him, and he was honored at a fancy gala event. What the article didn’t mention is that this man hadn’t spoken to either of his two adult children in several years, and how he managed to get out of his end of any agreement he made with his ex-wife during the divorce settlement. His co-workers characterized him as mean and coldhearted. The sum of our actions, not a single act, gives away our location.
Do your actions give away your location? Are you really kind, or do you just act it sometimes? No one is kind all of the time, but only when we focus on learning about and becoming more like Jesus, can we truly arrive at that destination.
[i] The Gottman Institute, “Love Lab,” https://www.gottman.com/love-lab/.