I’m learning that kindness and compassion take practice. This seems to be especially true in my most difficult moments. When I choose kindness, instead of my habitual reaction, it’s powerful, disarming, and transformative. In any given moment, the kindness you offer to others affects what happens in the very next moment.
Studies show that thinking about, observing or practicing a kind act stimulates our vagus nerve, a bundle of nerves that originates at the top of the spinal cord and surrounds the heart. The vegus nerve activates different organs throughout the body (such as the heart, lungs, liver and digestive organs). It literally warms up the heart and may be closely connected to the brain’s receptor networks for oxytocin, the soothing hormone involved in maternal bonding. Kindness also triggers the reward system in our brain’s emotion regulation center releasing dopamine, the hormone that’s associated with positive emotions.
God is amazing! We are intentionally created and designed to love one another. Showing kindness and compassion to others is actually good for our physical and our emotional well-being. Do good, feel good. Our sinfulness would have us lean the other way, to avert our eyes from the need around us and protect our time and possessions. I find that I need make an intentional choice to show compassion and the practice itself has cumulative effect. The more I choose compassion the easier it becomes. I am instantly rewarded with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude and humbleness at the realization that God has allowed me to partner with him in showing love to a hurting and sinful world.
What we practice and how is our choice. When we practice being busy, frustrated, and reactive we become better at it. When we practice peace, kindness and compassion we reset our brains to recognize the reward of living generously. It’s not easy, and it doesn’t come naturally. But it’s how we were created to live. Here are a few ideas on how to start practicing kindness and compassion:
- Take care and be kind to yourself.
- Allow yourself to be interrupted.
- Initiate a conversations with neighbors and friends, ask questions and listen.
- Give away money to a cause that you are passionate about.
- Get creative if you’re on a limited budget.
- Volunteer! With whatever time you have to give.
- Study Jesus’ example. He was really good at living a compassionate life.
As Christ followers we are walking, talking reflections of Jesus. We must live it with intentionality and audacity. Be curious, open your eyes and heart to opportunities to love compassionately. The world will know us by our love.
The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose
Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson
The Compassionate Instinct: The Science of Human Goodness
Dacher Keltner, Jason Marsh, and Jeremy Adam Smith
Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life
7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess