George H.W. Bush and the Power of Kindness, by Doro Bush Koch

Kindness is a virtue I experienced firsthand as a child growing up. And because of that, it’s a characteristic in human beings I value, maybe above all others. I was fortunate to grow up with a father who was innately kind. Dad treated my four brothers and I with great respect and showered us with unconditional love. He always had something encouraging to say to us and thought we were wonderful. I remember once, maybe 20 years ago, we were at church in Maine and the minister was making a point about perfection or the lack thereof, and he asked everyone who thought they had a perfect family to raise their hand. One hand went up... my dad’s. He truly thought that we were perfect. 

Dad wasn’t just kind to his family. He was kind to everyone. He knew the impact a small gesture of kindness could have. Former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates wrote about this in his book called “A Passion for Leadership - Lessons on Change and Reform from 50 Years of Public Service”. And this is the quote: 

A leader who treats his team members with respect and dignity can win the loyalty of subordinates, literally for life. Throughout his entire career, George H.W. Bush was consistently kind to all those who worked with and for him. Most memorable were the countless little notes he would send to people who had gone out of their way for him, who had received recognition of some sort for an accomplishment, who had just done a good job, or had suffered some kind of personal tragedy or setback. He treated everyone--from White House groundskeepers to cabinet officers--the same way, asking about their families and their children (usually by name), asking how things were going for them generally, talking about the latest sports event of note. Virtually all who worked for him were considered part of a larger family, and no one ever forgot it. Never underestimate the power of a kind word. Treating subordinates properly always pays dividends and others notice. It doesn’t mean being a soft touch.

Research tells us that we ALL are innately kind. Performing acts of kindness is a choice, but the tendency to be kind appears to be something innate, something that we have even in infancy. 

In one study, a 14-month-old child seeing an adult experience difficulty, such as struggling to open a door because their hands are full, will automatically attempt to help. 

In other words, when we perform acts of kindness, we are being true to our own nature, and this naturally makes us feel good. 

In addition to making us and others feel good, studies have demonstrated that the psychological benefits of kindness are actually reflected in the brain. When we are kind, we create neural pathways that enhance feelings of well-being, feel-good endorphins and mood elevating neurotransmitters. 

There are some remarkable benefits to those who engage in kindness. One 2003 study done at the University of Michigan found that people who regularly helped others had a lower risk of dying over a five-year period than those who did not help others. 

A fascinating feature of kindness is that it appears to be self-replicating, inspiring kindness in others. Simply put, when we ourselves perform an act of kindness, this is likely to encourage others to act in a similar way. 

One study conducted by researchers at Cambridge University, the University of Plymouth and the University of California LA, found that seeing someone else help another person produced good feelings, which subsequently caused them to reach out and do something altruistic themselves. 

When we are kind, we help make our world a kinder place to live in. 

And finally, kindness actually does make you happier. A study conducted by a University of Pennsylvania research team headed by Dr. Martin Seligman looked at the effects of writing a thank you letter and personally delivering it to someone who had never been properly thanked for their kindness. In other words, performing an act of kindness towards someone who had themselves been kind. Participants who did this were able to immediately exhibit a massive increase in happiness scores, with benefits lasting for a month after. So being kind to others has enormous benefits for us. 

At the end of dad’s life, he was still kind. He lived in a wheelchair and could do very little for himself. LIfe was a struggle yet he never, ever complained. And even when he didn’t feel well he was always kind. Thanking his caregivers for everything they did. Telling my mother she looked beautiful. Telling his daughter when she asked how he was doing, that he was better for seeing her. Showing by example that being kind makes for a long and happy life.