Most of us believe that kindness helps the elderly cross busy streets, so we guide them. We think it lies hidden in the sweet smiles of children so we spend our time with them. We’re also the same people that get angry at our partner if they come home late, the first to lose our cool in a traffic jam. We’re all endowed with kindness, we just have to put it into practice.
While it may not always be easy to be kind, breast cancer survivor and author of “The Negativity Remedy,” Nicole J. Phillips believes in giving grace to others even when we don’t feel like it. This World Kindness Day, Phillips reflects on why humour and empathy are necessary and how one little change can make a huge difference.
You’ve struggled with addiction and even fought breast cancer, what gave you the courage to make life altering decisions that turned your life around?
There was a tipping point where I realized that my life needed to change. I remember I had gone out to a bar with my husband and I was really obnoxious and rude to him. I didn’t think anything of it; in fact it was funny to me. However, my husband said that I owed him an apology. I knew there and then that I had to really begin to figure out how to live the life that I wanted to live and how it involved kindness.
I said to myself ‘I need to quit drinking’ and I started to see how kindness was all around me. I started writing this weekly newspaper column and I still write it today, nine years later. It’s called “Kindness is Contagious.” I ask people about their stories with kindness and how it made them feel. There are times when kindness showed up for them just when they needed it. I realized within a year of being ‘intentional’ about this kindness that radical changes were happening in my life. I quit drinking and smoking, I lost 30 pounds and fell in love with my husband all over again; but all of those things really happened because I took my eyes off of myself and put them on the needs of others. I looked at not just my actions but my needs as well by looking at people from their perspective. I realized that the world doesn’t revolve around me.
“If we were to just take responsibility for our reactions along with our actions, the world would be a kinder place to live in.”
Would you call this empathy? Did it in turn teach you what kindness does?
Indeed, kindness and empathy are two sides of the same coin. Empathy teaches you to understand others from their perspective. We constantly think ‘aren’t we all inherently good people?’ It’s just that sometimes we engage in a little harmless gossip and the occasional fight or flight response. Perhaps the problem doesn’t lie with those who exasperate us. Perhaps we’re the issue — explicitly, the manner in which we respond to others; with negative words, connotations or acts. If we were to just take responsibility for our reactions along with our actions, the world would be a kinder place to live in.
What gave birth to the “The Negativity Remedy?”
The idea stemmed from 10 years of watching the transformation that kindness had in my own life and honestly having breast cancer was another layer that I needed to learn in order to finish this book. I knew that kindness had helped me with my addictions and changed the temperature in my house in terms of reacting with each other. I saw that kindness can walk you through the most difficult times in your life. The more that I spoke and the more that I wrote, I saw that this wasn’t a formula that worked only for me, it was something that I could confidently say would work for everyone. That is when I knew the book was ready.
You said your journey with breast cancer added a layer to your understanding of kindness, did it also show you about the principle of gratitude being tied into it?
I think kindness and gratitude are really close cousins. Research shows us that a lot of the same chemicals that are released into our bodies when we do an act of kindness are also released when we sit in a moment of gratitude. I think as far as my cancer journey went, yes, I learned how to give kindness and also accept it which is terribly difficult to learn sometimes. I also saw this gratitude in moments of kindness like snuggling my son on the couch after a surgery.
You deem kindness as something intentional and not inherent, what gave birth to this idea?
The thoughts that naturally come to us are not kind. They’re very negative towards us and to others. We are filled with worry and hatred. Even as far as being busy goes, we are so selfish. When one wants to create a life change, you must learn to reject these thoughts.
“I am not going to be held captive by my own brain.”
I am not going to be held captive by my own brain. Do I still feel those emotions? Of course! But I can’t let it define my actions. I have to learn how to create new pathways inside my brain. I want to intentionally be compassionate and build this muscle. It doesn’t matter if you’re an old dog, we can teach you new tricks.
Is optimism the answer to creating these new pathways? How does one look at the bright side during a pandemic?
To me, this pandemic has forced us to feel empathy towards others. We’re all wearing masks and social distancing. By noticing these similarities, I see the kindness pendulum swing. The more empathetic we can become to ourselves and others, the more we can grab onto kindness. I see this growth of understanding. It makes you wonder how others are in the same situation. It makes a magnetic connection.
November 13 is World Kindness Day — do you think kindness is something to be celebrated everyday?
I think this is a lot like a birthday. For example, my husband’s birthday is a day of celebration regardless of me celebrating him every day. World Kindness Day is a fun release for those of us who are kindness advocates. We need it for other people though, for them to stop and realize the significance. I think we just need to go out and be intentional about our kindness even if it is about just one person. We must move people out of the mundane.