I’ve been thinking about kindness lately. A lot.
It seems to me that there is no expression in the German language that matches the full meaning of the English word “kindness”.
“Freundlich” is just the way you communicate, an upgraded version of “höflich”. It lacks motivation.
“Güte” comes close. But “Güte” implies a difference in status. A father is “gütig” to his child for example.
“Herzlichkeit” is more about the level of enthusiasm that you show when interacting with others. It also lacks the foundation of truly caring and meaning well towards another human being.
There is no German word that expresses all the aspects of kindness.
And I fear our default “modus operandi” as Germans reflects that underfed, starved, crippled version of “kindness”.
About a week ago I got a chance to take a hard look into the mirror and reflect upon my own behaviour.
I got to ask myself: “Do I live up to my own standards of kindness?”
I did not.
It all happened so suddenly. One moment I am in the car with my wife and my children. Evgenia drives carefully through the narrow, winded streets of Santander’s city centre. I look over to her and say: “Drive carefully. The city is full of tourists. You don’t pay attention for a second and someone runs in front of your car.” (My wife knows this herself, but it’s not true until a man said it, right?)
I hardly finished speaking when a motorbike zooms past us on the right side of our car – on the one lane street. His speed is way too high. I shout out: “That asshole! He could kill someone.”
A second later I see a woman stepping on the street and the motorbike slams right into her shoulder. She gets spinned around several times, then she hits the asphalt hard – centimetres away from the kerbside.
My wife brakes. The kids scream in horror. We get out of the car and try to help. Other people come too. The woman is conscious, but her head is bleeding and her hand is broken.
The driver of the motorcycle comes over, helm under his arm. He wants to check on her too. I get up and I scream at him:
“Are you happy now, you fucking arsehole? You were way too fast!”
I am furious.
And then I see how the Spanish people react. The driver is emotionally hurt, but he doesn’t scream back. He answers calmly. The other people who helped kindly tell me not to fight. Even the woman who got hit by the motorcycle tells me “It’s fine”.
Their reaction stopped me cold.
It’s not what I expected. It’s not what you would experience in Germany, believe me. The guy was clearly at fault. He was way too fast; he took over on the right side in a narrow street and as a local he knew that Santander is crawling with tourists at this time of year.
But everyone cut him some slack. They didn’t want to “make him pay” for his sins. Not even his victim. They wanted everyone to be fine.
And I? I wanted justice. That’s what Germans do.
We care about what is right and wrong. We care about the “proper way” of doing things. But do we care enough about each other?
When I started Immigrant Spirit, I wanted to lift people up. To help good and talented people to fulfil their own dreams. I was and I am still sure that the way to a happier and more successful society is to help each person to get closer to their individual version of heaven. Not to impose my ideas on others.
Instead, I became hard and unforgiving, because others were unkind and uncaring towards me. I spent a good amount of time in politics and that’s the way it is. You constantly have to protect yourself against people who want to thwart your plans, harm you and destroy you if they can. (And that’s just inside your own party.)
The accident that I witnessed confirmed to me what I feared for a while:
I don’t like myself anymore.
When I look into the mirror, I see a hard man and a constantly stressed man. I deliver what I promised and I do go way beyond normal service for my clients.
But I am not the kind person I used to be.
I can be again, though.
When I look back at my life, all my major achievements were the result of kindness. The kindness I gave, not the kindness I received. Surprising, isn’t it?
When you are kind to others, it allows them to relax. To be more open with you. To share not only their goals, but also why these goals are important. This allows you to help them achieve their true goals, instead of those stated at the surface.
And people remember that.
Here is the scary bit: To receive this level of kindness and support you need to make yourself vulnerable.
Lower your battle-axe. It makes people nervous, the way you hover it over your head, ready to strike.
Open the visor of your helmet, so that we can see your face.
Take off your chain mail and let us see your battle scars and let us see your muscles. But also show us that little beer belly that you usually try to hide – by holding your breath, when you meet people you like to impress.
Cut out all the pretext. I, for example, like to hide behind my jokes. I like a lot of people, so I joke a lot as well. That’s great for breaking the ice – but it keeps me from building the real intimate relationships that I seek.
At one point you need to get real. You need to make yourself vulnerable. Or you will never have these truly close relationships that make your life worthwhile – and your career a success.
Imagine you have someone that you can truly be vulnerable with. Imagine talking about your true goals and the real reason why you care so much. Imagine sharing your deepest fears, your weaknesses and your flaws – and to see kindness in the eyes of this other person. Can you imagine how liberating this is? Not having to pretend to be flawless and not having to hide that you are proud of your strengths?
This person, if you choose wisely, will respect you for being brave. This person will like you and care for you, because you proved to be: human.
Think about the heroes that you truly love in movies and books: Are they “perfect” or are they full of flaws?
This is the magic of surrounding yourself with people that you can be completely vulnerable with:
- They understand your real goals better than anybody else.
- And they start to care so much about you, that they will actively help you.
With advice, with resources, with connections to the people who can make your dreams come true!
Find a person that you can be truly honest with. It will change your life.
I wish you success.