The Kindness Challenge was harder than I thought it would be. Was it because I am incapable of being kind? Sure, there’s room for improvement in my personal Kindness Department, but I wasn’t necessarily a Scrooge. “I’m nice enough,” so I thought.
I’ve participated in other service-oriented missions and challenges that required random acts of kindness. This was different. Being kind to strangers in these random-acts-of-kindness challenges was easy. I felt good right away. But being kind to those I already see on a regular basis, with whom I already have a decent relationship—that was the challenge.
“Make your toughest relationships better and good relationships great” was the call from the book The Kindness Challenge: Thirty Days to Improve Any Relationship by Shaunti Feldhahn. The relationship could be any person—a colleague, boss, family member or friend—with whom you regularly interact.
I wanted to try it! It’s not so much that I only wanted to improve the relationship, because the relationship I was thinking of wasn’t bad. It was peaceful and beneficial. But more than that, I wanted to change myself. I wanted to be more gracious. I didn’t want to be clouded by cynicism or cruise mindlessly through life. I wanted to be more intentional in my growth and interactions. I wanted to let the relationship grow deeper roots…and thrive.
And that was one of the most attractive features of the book: Yes, the power of kindness can diffuse tension and break down walls, which is great for the relationship. But being kind to others was going to affect me—the do-er of kind acts—just as much, and possibly more than the receiver of kind acts. It would soften me, and as a result, change the atmosphere, and hence impact the other person.
Feldhahn outlines three components to the challenge in her book:
- Nix the Negatives: Say nothing negative to your person or about them to someone else. If negative feedback is inevitable, be constructive or encouraging without a negative tone.
- Practice Praise: Every day, find one positive that you can sincerely praise or affirm about your person. Tell them and tell someone else.
- Carry Out Kindness: Every day, do a small act of kindness or generosity for your person.
Ok, so: don’t say anything negative, say something positive to them and to someone else, and do something kind for that person. Simple enough, right?
So why did I fail after two days?
I didn’t have accountability.
First, the book indicates that you can choose whether to tell your “person” that you’re doing this challenge. Many don’t tell them because it’s either not appropriate (i.e. it’s a colleague or supervisor) or because they might question your motives. Secondly, the book and its website also provides resources to do the challenge with a small group or another person who can keep you accountable.
I chose not to tell my person and I didn’t join a group. I knew that my “person” wouldn’t know the difference if I wasn’t extra kind to them because it wasn’t a contentious relationship to start with.
I didn’t want to exert extra energy to show more kindness. That leads to the second reason why I failed.
I was still self-absorbed.
One of the most convicting, yet practical suggestions the book gives is that if we want to be kind, we need to look out for the other person—pay attention to their needs. Be present in their world. Look out for positive things about that person that you genuinely appreciate. Yet, I was too lazy to go beyond what was necessary. My comfort zone was way too comfortable for me.
And yet kindness is self-sacrificial. As I was reading, it made me realize that the characteristics of kindness sounded a lot like agape love. The church talks about agape love a lot. It’s the core ethos of Christianity. But at times, love can also seem like lofty, grand goal attainable by the “saints.” But this book’s explained kindness in a way that made love seem more attainable for every day people…like a bite-sized version of agape love. I want to take that bite. I’ll keep trying to take small steps toward kindness, to be led by Christ’s love. But in order to do that I must first die to self. Gulp!
Looking ahead to develop kindness muscles
Like New Year’s Resolutions, committing to and following through on a challenge is not easy. Maybe you’re not a fan of checking off a checklist. This challenge provides a checklist to help kickstart a change in behavior, not to put you on a guilt trip. So don’t be disheartened if you miss a day (or week) or two. Keep trying!
I think it’s worth developing our kindness muscles. Musicians, athletes and artists practice their craft over and over until they build muscle memory, until each skill becomes second nature. As much as we celebrate these admirable talents, I think it is even more critical to develop kindness so that Christ’s love becomes second nature to us. Although a challenge may start with checklists, the goal for this challenge, much like other challenges, is for a change in heart and lifestyle—for kindness to be woven into the daily rhythm and fabric of our relationships.
So I’m going to give it another try! This time, I’m going to include others along in my journey. Do you want to give it a try with me?
- Find more about The Kindness Challenge at jointhekindnesschallenge.com.
- Visit westernusa.salvationarmy.org to find The Salvation Army nearest you.
- Give to support the fight for good in your community.