Chapter 20

What makes conflict in human
coexis­tence bearable: Kindness

Isn’t life a struggle? It really is a compe­tition. But the compe­titors should treat each other fairly and respect each other. In compe­tition, athletes give each other nothing, yet they can be friends. But you should treat other people with kindness outside of sports, too. And if this results in friend­ships – even better!

You will be treated by others the way you treat them…

When I think back: We had a neighbor we kids avoided because he always looked so angry. Our mother called him Mister Grumpy. One of my uncles was always in a good mood. We were happy when he came to visit. One of my friends was very hard to sadden. If I ever had a downer, she cheered me up very quickly. One of my friends was handi­capped. But he still was always in a good mood. My friends and I liked taking him along on our adven­tures even though he was a burden. I decided to go on a group trip without knowing any of my fellow travelers. I had to decide after a week whether I should hate or love the fellow travelers. I decided to go for the latter – that seemed easier to me.

My mother used to weave many aphorisms into her upbringing, among them: What goes around comes around. Try it out and approach your fellow men kindly! You will experience that your kindness is usually recipro­cated with kindness.

Which of the following state­ments do you agree with, and which ones do not apply to you?

I am empathetic to everyone.

People are fickle for me. This is why I prefer
sticking to the facts.

Most people are reckless and rude
when it’s about getting an advantage for themselves.

When I meet someone new,
I always ask myself: What does he want from me?

When I get to know people, I appear to be
interested and accommodating.

You have to be able to judge people correctly
if you want to get along with them.

I used to always trust people.
But now I tend to be reserved, since I have been bitterly disappointed
multiple times in the past.

I refrain from judging people.
Even if I have known them for a long time.

When I think back to my school days,
I remember our teachers first,
and then the individual subjects.

People are moody. Therefore, I prefer to hold back.

What are the results of what you have marked: Are you rather skeptical or trusting towards other people?

Object-oriented or person-oriented

US psycho­lo­gists roughly divided employees at companies into object-oriented and person-oriented indivi­duals. They found out that employees who maintain both in a balanced relati­onship are the most likely to contribute to achieving company objectives.

My experi­ences at companies largely match the findings made by psycho­lo­gists: Employees who have excellent subject matter expertise often compensate for weaknesses in their commu­ni­cative behavior with their perfor­mance. And employees who like to talk a lot try to hide their sometimes lacking profes­sional quali­fi­ca­tions behind their talk. Company managers should keep this in mind, especially when filling management positions. After all, when managing employees, it is parti­cu­larly important to strike a balance between fact-oriented and commu­ni­cative behavior. This is why leadership must be charac­te­rized by kindness that is trans­ferred to the employees. This is the only way to achieve joint, goal-oriented work.

Here is an example. To increase produc­tivity, management had the perfor­mance of five assembly groups analyzed. The groups and the perfor­mance of the individual employees were compared, respec­tively. In one group – the group with the second-best produc­tivity – it was deter­mined that one member was by far the last in terms of perfor­mance measured in item numbers per time unit. The super­visor drew the conclusion from this that the under­per­forming employee would likely perform better in a different job. His position was filled with an employee for which management knew that he would hit higher unit numbers.

But lo and behold, the group dropped down to fourth place in the group compa­rison. Managers looked into the issue and found out the following: The low-perfor­mance employee was the commu­ni­cator of the group, he was in charge of exchanging infor­mation, had ideas, and stayed in touch with the other groups. So it not only depends on the individual person to create a certain balance between their different orien­ta­tions and skills, but also that attention is paid to a balanced workforce. This is the task of managers.

Execu­tives who lack soft skills often only show a super­ficial, insuf­fi­cient amiability that disap­pears immediately in conflict situa­tions, in parti­cular. Employees then talk about their superior’s true face. How would you describe your boss:

open and honest or reserved

imposing or giving free space

trusting or distant

empathetic or coldly egoistic

hard but fair or soft and slippery

polite and correct or unpredictable

How would you charac­terize yourself?

Free yourself from your fears!

People who generally show kindness toward others can be charac­te­rized roughly as what?

  • show interest without being pushy;
  • pay respect and deference in the form of politeness;
  • can express appre­ciation and praise when they find something good;
  • give confi­dence with the risk of being disappointed;
  • can bear objective criticism and contradiction;
  • defend themselves firmly, clearly and distinctly against malice;
  • are capable of reliable and lasting friendships;
  • are happy to share what they have with others as long as they do not feel taken advantage of.

What prevents you from becoming a person who exhibits kindness towards others? This is usually due to fears that were not overcome due to a lack of self-develo­pment. These fears include:

  • Fear of doing something wrong;
  • Fear of not being taken seriously;
  • Fear of being disappointed;
  • Uncer­tainty toward strangers;
  • Lack of self-confidence;
  • Fear of being recognized in one’s weaknesses;
  • Worry about coming up short oneself;
  • Fear of being overused.

How kindness is trampled on

The misery in the world makes many children become serious and closed. Not only in countries of the so-called Third World. Children and young people experience the quarrels of their parents, suffer from their separation, become neglected because the single mother is overs­trained, feel pushed back, excluded. There are not only these blatant forms that make it difficult for adole­s­cents to grow into society, to find their way in it, to receive recognition and affection. The other extreme, excessive care, constant precau­tions and restrictive protection, also prevent children and adole­s­cents from having the experience of having to get involved with other people in order to be accepted.

It is criminal, for example, when children in Africa are not able to grow up into a world of trust but grow up as child soldiers and street children. Commu­nities like the Salesians reach out to these children and adole­s­cents by giving them attention and care and bring a little light into this misery. Africa, Latin America, Asia – far away from us? Or cities in our own country? Far from our daily lives? Do we look away in our neigh­borhood, ignore bullying at companies? Is every­thing really that far away? We should bring light to the misery that surrounds us – in our respective environment – by approa­ching our fellow humans with kindness. This includes:

  • not letting yourself be pulled down
  • being able to lose
  • not always hitting back right away
  • being under­standing
  • dealing with meanness confidently
  • being able to forgive
  • forgetting about past fights

Instead: create an atmosphere that supports everyone with politeness, respect, attention, grace and trust. Because today, more than ever, all people are fatefully connected to each other. Kindness starts in your head: How do I think about other people?

Which of the following state­ments do you agree with, and which ones do you disagree with?

Life is a struggle. This is why I make
a distinction
between friends and foes.

I have no enemies. But I also do not have
any friends
that go through thick and thin with me.

You can read most
people’s faces.

You can already tell by a driver’s
driving style
whether their behavior is timid,
adven­turous, or cautious.

With a little knowledge about human
nature, you see which people
you can trust and which ones cannot be trusted.

I can sense whether or not people feel
favorably towards me or not.

When you no longer have anything
in common, you should
stop being friends – it’s over.

And now answer the following questions:

  • How often was I wrong when judging a person?
  • Were there people that surprised me positively
    despite my initial reser­va­tions toward them?
  • Am I prone to being prejudiced?
  • Do I judge people even though I hardly know them?
  • What makes me feel positive about a person?

Do you help others to show off their good sides?

Everyone strives to be seen positively by as many people as possible. And how do you get other people to judge you positively, respect you as a person, even when you are of the opposite opinion, or work for a competing company or a competing organization?

There is no way around it: You must conti­nuously develop yourself in order to gain attention as a person. Only in this way will you gain indepen­dence and sovereignty from offices you hold and member­ships in presti­gious associa­tions. Kindness is then not perceived as conde­s­cending or super­ficial. Self-confi­dence based on the ability to learn does not hide the fact that we are all imperfect and make mistakes.

As children, we cannot choose the people we live with and even as adults, our choices are limited. We are born into our families. My colle­agues at work are prede­ter­mined. The neighbors are there when we move in. The only people we can pick are our friends. Strive to feel good about the people that surround you. This has the greatest chance of succeeding when you generally focus on the sympa­thetic sides of people that surround you. No one is entirely unpleasant and no one has exclu­sively unpleasant sides to them. However, some people may need help to show their good sides.

Exploring and ordering your personal environment

It can be useful to use a diagram to get a better under­standing of the people around you. Write down the names of the people around you, similar to a mind map around your name in the middle of the sheet. Leave enough space to add notes about each name. Write down which of the following charac­te­riza­tions come to mind about each person:

  • lives with a focus on people
  • focuses mainly on facts
  • is always friendly to everyone
  • you can rely on him/her one hundred percent
  • is very reserved, at least at the start
  • suffers from severe mood swings
  • does every­thing thoroughly and precisely
  • is very helpful
  • always has a problem
  • steals other people’s time
  • always up for a joke …

Add your own characteristics.

Then take a sheet of paper for every person and describe the individual person in detail. Also write down in a few words which relati­onship you have with the people you wrote down.

Then answer the following three questions:

  1. To whom do you find it easy to show kindness?
  2. Who would you like to cut off contact with?
  3. What kind of people are missing in your environment?

I recommend this chart to you because you can get a better under­standing of the network of people you live in and which influence they therefore have on you. It is up to you how you integrate into this reference system and which impact you have on your part. If you come to the conclusion that your environment does not support you, but drags you down or keeps you down, try to get into a new environment doing so coura­ge­ously, cleverly, and with deter­mi­nation, or try to establish a new one. Separate yourself from people who hinder your development.

Seek closeness with people who will stand by you, who will support the develo­pment of your perso­nality and enable an environment of trust and mutual support. For your part, try to have the same effect on other people: in friend­ships, in the neigh­borhood, in the family, in the work group – wherever you are with other people. Become a source of happy coexistence.

Kindness proves its worth in the event of conflict

Kindness is expressed in thoughts, words, and deeds. You impact your thoughts by reflecting – in dialogue with yourself. There is no better method for this than keeping a diary, both as an event diary and a diary for writing down insights. Chapter 9 of this book describes how that works. Mentally processing insights from life shapes our attitude towards life and our view of people. Both are repea­tedly put into question by constantly new experi­ences. Reflecting is a constant process.

Those who do not filter out or bend to fit every­thing that contra­dicts their views will incre­asingly reach spheres of cognition that lead them to higher and more diffe­ren­tiated views. A funda­mental insight is this: Negative attitudes, words, and actions toward others sicken and lead to isolation, while kindness encou­rages and promotes, which in turn allows each of us to thrive.

Very few of us will be able to hide the thoughts we have for long. Over the years, they express themselves not only in what we say, but also in our permanent nonverbal expres­sions: facial expres­sions, eyes, gestures, posture and gait. One should be a person who radiates joy!

Parado­xical as it may sound, true kindness shows itself most clearly in conflict situa­tions: Remain friendly and act with confi­dence. Suaviter in modo, fortiter in re – this is a piece of advice from Roman times. Kindness is not a fair-weather behavior according to the motto “peace, joy, pancakes”. But it helps against prejudice, intole­rance and hatred. Kindness can disarm!

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