Effective Communication: Living Authentic Kindness

A person helps another walk across the street. One is holding a white cane.

During interactions with friends, family members and strangers, it is important to remember to treat others the way you would like to be treated. This can be accomplished by keeping kindness top-of-mind. Being kind builds rapport, establishes relationship and makes situations that might be uncomfortable or awkward less so.  

What does it mean to act from a place of authentic kindness? This article explains what kindness means, provides examples of what it looks like to act with authentic kindness, and suggests tips for living authentic kindness as you go about your day. 

Emotional Wellbeing During a Pandemic: For any of us, uncertainty and change can be stressful. Given the need for social distancing, some of us may feel isolated or lonely. Even with coping strategies, it can be helpful to reach out for additional support. Here are a variety of resources that you or a loved one may find useful. 

What Does it Mean to be Kind? 

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, kindness is “the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate.” Being authentically kind means approaching someone the way you would want to be approached. It means being curious and asking questions, rather than making assumptions or thinking that you know what is going on in the life of another. Now, an example will be given of how you can demonstrate your friendliness, generosity and consideration for others. 

Kindness in Everyday Life for People Who are Sighted: 

As someone who can see, encountering a person with a visual impairment may raise questions. Since kindness means coming at interactions with a sense of curiosity, how can you get your questions answered? Treating others the way you would like to be treated is a great place to start. 

Scenario: You are walking down the sidewalk and encounter a person with a visual impairment walking around the outside of a building. You know they have rounded the building more than once, and you wonder if they might be lost. You may respond in one of many ways:  

  • You could keep walking and do nothing.  
  • You might assume they are trying to go inside the building and tell them directions to the nearest door. 
  • Or, since you want to be most helpful and show that you act with friendliness, generosity and consideration for others, you may stop and ask, “Excuse me, can I help you?” 

The person might say that, yes, in fact, they wish to go to a specific entrance, or they could give some other reason they need your help. In any case, your next question may be, “How would you like me to help you?”  

This is an ideal approach because it takes into account the person’s ability to know and articulate how they would like help. Just because a person has a visual impairment does not mean they like to receive help in the same way your friend, grandmother or someone else with a visual impairment you may have encountered likes to receive assistance. That is why asking how you can best help first is so important. Asking gives you the knowledge you need to provide information in the way that particular person will find most beneficial. Asking this question also alleviates any awkwardness because you will know exactly what to do to help, and will not have to guess. 

Alternatively, the person could say that, no, they are just out for a stroll and are waiting for a friend who is inside the building so they did not want to walk very far. They may also tell you to buzz off. In either case, wishing them a good day and going on with your business is probably the kindest form of action. A rejection of your offer of help likely has nothing to do with you. It is important to remember that someone might have things going on of which you are not aware, and it is kinder to wish them well and move on with your day. 

Kindness in Everyday Life for People Who are Blind or Visually Impaired: 

As a person with a visual impairment, you may need to give explanations and answer questions of those who are sighted. Let us look at the above example from the lens of someone with a visual impairment, so you will know how to best display your friendly, generous and considerate nature.  

Say you are the person with the visual impairment who would like directions to the door of the building. If someone asks if you need help and wants to know the best way they can help you, remember to let them know you appreciate them taking the time and having the forethought to ask first. They will likely say, “Of course I would ask; it is what I would want someone to do for me.” It is still important to express gratitude for the moments of kindness and courtesy others extend.  

A person could approach you assuming they know how to best help you. Authentic kindness is important to keep in mind in these situations, as well. Remember to be firm and state the way you would like help to be given, yet do so in a polite manner. You may simply say, “May I hold your elbow?” or “Please tell me when the traffic light changes”. These statements establish yourself as an authority on how you would like help, yet are friendly and considerate of others.  

If you do not need help, declining with a simple, “I do not need any help; thank you,” communicates your desire with kindness and your gratitude for their offer.  

Even if you may have been asked something a million times, such as the name of your service dog or how you tie your shoes when you cannot see, recognize that each encounter is new. Responding with authentic kindness educates that person, and you may even strike up a friendship as you continue the conversation. 

Important Points to Remember: 

Here is a summary of the important ideas to keep in mind when you are able to interact with others. 

  • Lean into your curiosity and ask questions. 
  • If you wonder whether someone needs help, first ask, “May I help you?” If they say yes, ask how you can best help. If they say no, wish them a good day and go on with your activities. 
  • If someone declines help you offer, respect their wishes. 
  • If someone tries to help you and you need help given in a different way than offered, be firm yet polite in explaining how the person can best help you. 
  • If you do not need help, politely yet firmly say, “I do not need help; thank you”. 

Remember to communicate from a place of authentic kindness. Acting out of authentic kindness fosters relationships, opens the door for communication and helps others feel valued and appreciated. 

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