Friday, August 29, 2008

Zen Habits: The No. 1 Lifehack You can Implement Today to Make the World a Better Place

from Zen Habits:
Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Mark Hayward of the MyTropicalEscape blog.

In a word: Kindness.

The Oxford Pocket Dictionary defines kindness as - the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.

Mt. Resaca Sunrise It’s a simple concept in theory, but in reality it is an action that can sometimes be difficult to implement on a day-to-day basis.

Now I am not talking about the kindness that you might show to your spouse, family members, or friends; yes, of course that’s important.

Likewise, if you are going into your preferred religious institution or social gathering place it is easy to be kind to your peers and those who are familiar…however, how do you (we, me, US) treat those who might be different?

Specifically, I am talking about kindness toward strangers, particularly, those who might be different from us.

A little background

Today the sun is rising perfectly over Mt. Resaca as I sit here on the beach watching my dog dig for crabs in the sand. For me life is really quite good. However, yesterday a pipe burst in my house and we had gallons of water on our office floor, which took me the better part of two hours to clean up.

While undertaking the mindless act of soaking up water and wringing out the towels I got lost in my thoughts and began to reflect upon both the past and present state of the world.

* Why is there so much hatred?
* How come people have to suffer?
* What is one small change that I can implement to help make the world a nicer place to be?

Germination of this reflection

Typically I don’t think about such heavy subjects while I am working. However, two items that I have recently read, one a blog post and the other the beginning of a book, really struck a chord.

The book, The Years of Extermination, by Sal Friedlander covers the horrendous story of Nazi Germany and the Jews from 1939 to 1945. During the introduction of the book Friedlander starts off by telling the story of a photo that contains a young man, David Moffie, who was just awarded his degree in medicine in 1942 from the University of Amsterdam with all of the regular pomp and circumstance. He goes on to describe that in the photo you can see Moffie wearing a small palm sized star with the word Jood underneath.

The significance of the photo?

David Moffie was the last Jewish student at the University of Amsterdam under German occupation. According to Friedlander, shortly after graduation Moffie was sent to Auschwitz concentration camp.

Along with the book’s introduction as described above, the other item that got me contemplating about the world and kindness was a recent blog post about racism on Chris Brogan’s website.

In his recent missive Chris veered from his usual musings on social media, the net, and blogging and he decided to get people thinking with a subtle post about media and how it can be used to perpetuate racism. As one example in the post he mentioned the recent New Yorker cover featuring Barack Obama and his wife who are shown, as a caricature, in a not so positive light.

What does this have to do with kindness?
While this is certainly not a post about racism or the Holocaust, I feel that both subjects are about as far away as one can get on the spectrum from kindness, as both are intentionally meant to degrade, humiliate, and hurt people.

Within my life I have been quite fortunate and have had the opportunity to travel to many countries, live for extended periods in various foreign nations, and have made some remarkable friends along the way.

Unfortunately, while traveling and living overseas I have also been the target of someone’s dislike and animosity on more than one occasion simply because I was different. Whether it was my skin color, poor language skills, hairstyle, or whatever, I am not really sure.

Nevertheless, as I have recently turned 40 I have been asking myself and thinking about the following:

“Where does the seeming hate and vitriol of racism come from and what would the world be like if we were all a little bit nicer to each other?”

Surely most of us are not perfect, but I have also been thinking lately about the fact that it’s very hard to have hate in your being or in your actions if you are sincerely trying to be kind towards others.

This is not meant to come off as preaching, in fact, this is as much a note to myself as it is to the Zen Habits’ readers who choose to peruse this post.

So what have I decided to do?

Starting today, the simple act (hack?) that I am going to practice to try and make the world a better place to live in is:


Why kindness? Because it’s free, easy to implement, and we can consciously choose to be kind to fellow humans.

How can you participate?
In true Zen Habits fashion, what I would like to see the reader’s do is quite simple - be kind to someone today, i.e. kindness it forward through your actions and interactions.

By myself the act of kindness is just one very tiny drop into the global bucket, but Leo has over 60,000 subscribers from all over the world!

Together, as a collective effort and united front, if we all decide to “kindness it forward” today, tomorrow, and the next day can you imagine the impact we could have?

Think about it, if even 30,000 of Leo’s subscribers go out and are kind to two extra people today that is 60,000 acts of kindness. Possibly, the 60,000 recipients of this kindness will then decide to be kind towards at least two other people during their day. That would spread the kindness movement to 120,000…and you get the idea.

Instead of listing out ways to be kind (e.g. saying hello, smiling, giving someone a ride, etc) I would like to turn this into a Zen Habit’s participatory exercise.

In the comments section as a way to help us to remember to be kind I thought we could list out 100 ways that our collective kindness might help a stranger and just possibly make the world a nicer place to be today.

I will start with the first five. Our kindness today might just:

1. Save somebody’s life.
2. Cause a person to be nice to someone else.
3. Make someone smile.
4. Ease someone’s stress.
5. Help you to meet someone you might not normally come into contact with.


Can we change the world? I don’t know.
But do we have the ability to make someone’s day a little better today because of a small act? Absolutely! And it all starts with kindness.

Mark Hayward owns a small business on the island of Culebra in the Caribbean. He blogs about lifestyle design, entrepreneurship, and travel at MyTropicalEscape and you can follow him on Twitter.

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