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Exercising our Kindness Muscles

By January 20, 2015 7 Comments

This summer I was spying on this couple. I was so taken by them that I surreptitiously took their picture. This type of activity is how I live out my Sydney Bristow double-agent fantasy life.


We were at a wedding, where everyone was either very hopeful as they watched the beautiful bride and her groom, or painfully cynical that love stories don’t really exist after all. I saw mostly happy people though, raising their glasses of homemade fermented honey, getting happy drunk on bees and love.

But mostly I watched the couple, and the great care they took for one another. They were older, with white hair and sun spots. On their faces they wore experience and life wrinkles. But oh, they were beautiful. They glowed happyHe put his hand on the small of her back. She smiled. He watched her with care. Right in front of me was the couple we want to be in forty years.

They turned out to be incredibly friendly, too. The woman must have known I was taking secret pictures of her under the table because she started up a conversation. Turns out, we had connections of knowing someone who knew someone who knew someone.

She was very chatty and he was very hungry. He said she should get something to eat. She said, “It’s alright, honey, you go on along.” But he didn’t. He stalled, waiting, until finally she followed. And so I continued to watch them. I was so very struck and how very kind they were to each other. That’s all it was. It was kindness.

A few weeks later, Cassie sent me an Atlantic Monthly article entitled Masters of Love by .

Turns out “science says lasting relationships come down to…kindness and generosity.”

Did you know? In June, about 13,000 couples will say “I do.” I imagine all of those couple are looking forward to a long happy life together.

Sadly, only 3 in 10 will remain in healthy, happy marriages.

The rest? Divorce, bitterness, dysfunction.

The article goes on to talk about psychologist John Gottman, who made a critical discovery — one that gets at the heart of why some relationships thrive while others languish.

It has to do with the word “bid.” Throughout the day, we are all making requests for connection. For instance, if I look out the window and say, “Look at that beautiful chicken in the yard.” I’m inviting Husband to respond – not about the chicken but to what I said. That’s my “bid.” If Husband responds kindly, I will feel like being kind back. If he grunts at his phone, doesn’t look up, or says my love of chickens is stupid, well then, I’ll probably want to kick him 🙂

I think this is what is meant when they say, “the greatest gift a father can give his children is to love their mother.” And vice versa. Because when we are kind to each other, the children get greater love from their parents.

If we wanted, we could become masters of kindness.

As I reflect on recent terrorist attacks, bullying, miserable marriages, and very sad children…I can think of very few others virtues we could “master” that would be of more worth to our world.

“There’s a habit of mind that the masters have,” Gottman explained in an interview, “which is this: they are scanning social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes.”

And did you know? Contempt is the NUMBER ONE factor that tears couples a part.

So, this is a marital post? Yes and No.

Today is Martin Luther King Day. I have always loved this day. I will never tire of watching his I Have A Dream speech or my favorite, I Have Been to the Mountaintop.

My kids will go to assemblies today and learn about equality and love. I hope it translates.

This video shows how kindness is easy to talk about, but hard to do. Especially in schools. “The Mean” just breaks my heart.


Wouldn’t this be a revolution? If we started being kind? Read Wonder and you’ll feel like starting your own revolution. Kindness glues couples together. I believe it can also glue our society together.

“My bounty is as boundless as the sea,” says Shakespeare’s Juliet. “My love as deep; the more I give to thee, / The more I have, for both are infinite.”

That’s how kindness works too: evidence shows that the more someone receives or witnesses kindness, the more they will be kind themselves. Imagine if children witness kindness in their home – how much more likely would they feel kindly towards themselves and to others?

We might think that kindness is just something some people have naturally. “Or you could think of kindness as a muscle,” Smith writes. Some people may be naturally more sensitive and kind, but just like exercise, we can grow the kindness muscle. We can “MASTER” the muscle. Just like exercise, we have to exercise our kindness muscles to keep them in shape.

Good relationships require consistent hard work. No, this love stuff ain’t for wimps!

Read Masters of Love here. It’s worth the read. It’s geared toward marriage, but I think it holds huge lessons for family, especially parents, as we raise and teach children who observe and then mimic our every action.

Meryl Streep on: ‘Careful the things you say / Children will listen / Careful the things you do / Children will see,’

To paraphrase Carlos Slim: most of us think we need to build a better world for our children, but the reality is we need to make better children for our world.

I think it starts with kindness.



  • What a wonderful wonderful post! I just love this – for marriage, for kindness, for all of it. I’m sharing this with the #1000Speak for Compassion group over on Facebook – it’s exactly the kind of story we’ve been sharing all week.
    Thanks for sharing all of this – it’s just beautiful and oh so timely.

  • Julia Tomiak says:

    I’m with Lisa- I love this. I will read the article and work on flexing my kindness muscle. Another inspiring post-thank you!

  • barrie says:

    I love this ! I love having some inspiration on having a good marriage- I agree wholeheartedly that we teach our children by our own actions. I am looking forward to reading the great links you gave~

  • Sue Houston says:

    Wonderful essay Amy! I am absolutely certain you and Gregor will be just like the couple in your photo in a few decades! Doug and I are just a decade or so ahead of you guys (or maybe 20 years actually?) Love in relationship is something to be cherished and nurtured.
    Kindness is the most wonderful thing to create, propagate, spread, and encourage! And it really is a great influence on everyone who sees it happening. Thank you for the warm message! 🙂

  • Dana says:

    This is beautiful Amy, and it gave me quite a bit to think about. I would love to be like that couple in forty years. And I would love to create better children for our world.

  • 4amwriter says:

    This is an important message, Amy, and something that everyone would do well to consider carefully. Many times, I am too tired or stressed or stretched in too many directions, to always pay attention to seemingly unimportant comments. Like your chicken example. But, you’re right, it isn’t about the chicken. I am going to work hard to remember that it isn’t about the chicken! 🙂 have a glorious day!

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