Hard Wired for Significance

In my last blog (Spiritual Significance) I shared that I was called the “how come girl” because of my curiosity as a child. I explained that in the spirit of my younger self, I became curious as to why it makes sense to treat ourselves and others with significance. I went on to explore the spiritual basis for treating ourselves and others with significance.  In this blog I want to use a story about a bad boss and a good friend to illustrate why, in addition to the spiritual lens, it makes sense from an intellectual, physical, and emotional perspective to treat people with significance.

The Tale of a Bad Boss and a Good Friend

In my career I have worked with, and for, some outstanding leaders.  Leaders with vision for the business, and belief in, and care for, the people they led.  I would go so far as to say, I worked for exceptional leaders whose values I admired and who believed in me, challenged me and gave me lots of opportunities.

All good stories have exceptions, including this one.  Oh, and what an exception it was!

I was living in England and working for a boss that fit the positive description above. Then, my world changed over night when he took a role to lead another large division in the company and was succeeded by a person who was the antithesis of every value I hold dear. This new boss believed in keeping those who reported to him off guard through withholding information, bullying, and humiliating those who held contrary opinions or ways of doing things. Those who did his bidding were also mentally and verbally abused, but they were rewarded generously in compensation and opportunity.

Every day I worked for this man I was filled with distrust, anxiety, and anger for the way he treated his employees.  This was especially painful for me because in addition to experiencing his negative treatment, in my role as head of Human Resources, I felt a responsibility for ensuring the work environment was respectful and engaging.

One particularly bad day began as I witnessed a new employee greeting this manager by saying “good morning” as he passed him in the hallway only to be told that in the future he should speak to him only if spoken to first.  As the day progressed I had a few run ins with my boss over penalizing someone on a bonus for what I believed was punishment for challenging him on an issue and another for trying to force all employees to participate in the same activities in a strenuous team building exercise.

As my husband Tim dropped me off at work that morning, he dropped off a Rae he knew, one who is emotionally grounded. At the day’s end, he picked up another Rae entirely.  Feeling a sense of despair as to how to influence my boss, and frustrated by seeing a work environment I had once seen as very positive and motivating morph into one which I did not recognize or feel was right, I very emotionally vented my frustrations to Tim.  I did not appreciate his admonishment that I should toughen up and not let this person bother or bully me, nor his well-intentioned attempts to offer solutions to my problem.

As we pulled into our driveway we were greeted by my close friend Pam, who Tim had picked up earlier that day at the airport. I stepped out of the car, and Pam took one look at me and said,”Raymond, what is the matter?”  I promptly burst into tears. She told me to head up to the bathroom, run a hot bath, and she would be up shortly with a glass of wine.  Tim looked like a deer in the headlights, and upon hearing Pam’s comments said in a relieved voice, “Thank God you are here, I am an ignorant Fu⍱⍭er  and I have no idea how to help.”

Shortly after getting into a hot bath, Pam arrived with two glasses of wine, handed me one and sat on the bathroom floor with hers. She simply asked me what was going on and listened to me.  She patiently listened as I emotionally vented all of my feelings, making me feel deeply heard and understood.  Later that night Pam made Tim and me her special, and our favorite, homemade pasta dinner.

This experience happened over twenty years ago, yet Tim and I both still vividly remember Pam’s kindness and care for both of us.

The Intellectual, Physical, and Emotional Benefits of Treating Self and Others with Significance

In a book called, “The Five Side Effects of Kindness”,  author David R. Hamilton shares that treating others with care, kindness, and I would say significance, has powerful effects on both the giver and the receiver.  He describes the following benefits:

Happiness – spiritually it simply makes us feel good likely because we perceive it as the right thing to do.  On a biochemical level a good feeling occurs because the brain’s natural version of morphine or heroin, known as endogenous opioids are elevated when giving or receiving an act of kindness.

Heart Health – The hormone oxytocin is produced which is known to reduce blood pressure and protect the heart.

Slows Aging – Oxytocin reduces free radicals and inflammation resulting in slowing the physical effects of aging.

Improves Relationships – Emotionally it connects us to and bonds us with other people.  There is a plethora of research in the field of psychology which indicates the importance of intimate and broader social relationships. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, love and belonging come right after food, water and safety.  In Susan Pinker’s TED talk on longevity, she shares her research showing that personal relationships and face to face contact are the top two contributors to longevity.

Contagious – Numerous studies show that kindness has a domino effect and that those who experience a kindness or even witness a kindness are more likely to act with kindness toward someone else.

In telling my story of the bad boss and the good friend, I do not mean to suggest that a complex problem involving many people was magically solved by a kindness elixir consisting of a hot bath, glass of wine, venting and good meal. But I can tell you that it made a difference to me then, and now, and did result in my experiencing many of the benefits described above.

While I am not sure what happened in my body biochemically, I do know that during my conversation with Pam, and for the short duration I was willing to work for this new boss, I felt less anxiety and distress. I felt greater clarity about the path forward. I felt intensely grateful to have a friend who cared about me and took the time to listen to me and to comfort both Tim and I.  I know that I was better able to harness the contagion benefit, as I took more time to really listen, hear and show caring to the employees who also worked for this man.

I am convinced that we are hard wired for kindness.  I also know that I, and I am sure many of you, sometimes get sidetracked due to self interest, busy schedules, exhaustion, emotional triggers and many other reasons. I challenge you as I challenge myself, to give yourself and others the benefits we are hard wired to enjoy.

Be Kind!


Learn More About the Effects of Kindness

  • Read “The Five Side Effects of Kindness”  by author David R. Hamilton.

Respond to Your Hardwiring to Be Kind and Loving

  • Pay attention and notice what a loved one wants, needs, or enjoys and provide it. (It may be as simple as bringing someone a cup of coffee, or giving a person your full attention and total presence).
  • Think about someone who has had a positive impact on your life in some way.  Send them a note or tell them verbally what they did and the effect it had/has on your life.
  • Simply set an intention to notice everyone around you, including complete strangers, and to watch for opportunities to practice a small act of kindness this week.

Reflect on Barriers to Acting with Kindness

  • Given the many benefits of kindness, reflect on the degree to which you are taking opportunities to treat yourself and others with significance.
  • Now consider what might be inhibiting you from exhibiting the degree of kindness to self and others that you would like (e.g. self interest, busy schedules, exhaustion, emotional triggers) and pick one barrier to minimize this month.

Honor the Intentions of Others

  • In the tale of a Bad Boss and a Good Friend, I did not show any grace to Tim who may have not responded in a way that I needed at the time, but was no doubt well intentioned.  When someone is trying to help you or show kindness that does not quite hit the mark, pause for a moment and consider that person’s intentions.  Choose to show appreciation or share what would be helpful to you.

Revel in Gratitude

  • Reflect over the last month, consider when you  acted with kindness or experienced it from someone else .  Either weekly or at the end of the month write the acts and experiences that stood out for during that period.  Throughout the year, look back and savor the kindness highlights that you captured. (Research indicates that even thinking about, meditating on, or observing an act of kindness has a positive effect on you and increases the chances you will be kinder as a result).

4 thoughts on “Hard Wired for Significance”

  1. Rae – you are one of the kindest women I know ! And yes, you are contagious and a magnet for sharing love, and yes kindness. Fantastic blog. I admire you for sharing.

  2. When we see someone hurting, like Tim saw you, we want to fix it and make it all better. We care. But what you needed that day was a listening and compassionate ear. So I like your suggestion that we could tell those who want to help us what we need. Sometimes we don’t know, but if we do, then we owe it to them to tell them. Is Pam the friend we met the other day? If so I can totally see her doing what she did for you.

    Travel well on Monday. Linda

  3. Your story, Rae, created quite the avalanche of thoughts within my mind. The most relevant to me was how “uncomplicated” caring can be. When we get all caught up around not knowing what to say, you reminded us to default to the simple rule: “Just validate the person’s feelings.” And, though it appears way too easy – the results are profound. It is natural for most of us to want to fix- or worse yet, attempt to try talking the person out of their feelings, which results in the person feeling a bit crazy and often angry. But, as you wrote, even though these types of comments are always given with the best of intentions, over and over they backfire as the person hears that their feelings are insignificant. Your story is a powerful reminder and so beautifully dovetails into, “Treating Self and Others with Significance.” Once again, you spotlighted that loving and caring acts in life are not complex. In this case, your torment of being exposed to abusive practices, though the situation did not change, your reaction to them did by the kind understanding from a best friend who just listened – and, no doubt said, “I am so sorry you are in such a tough situation. Just know I am here for you.”

  4. I read this blog, remembered the boss that Rae mentioned – and indeed there was no limit to his ability to be cruel – and thought about all the other blogs Rae has written. She always puts herself out front as the person learning from an experience but I want her to know that I have never forgotten a great act of kindness she did for me. I had just received some work news which had really shattered my belief in myself and the HR leadership team and as I walked back into my office Rae appeared. She knew what had happened and was right there for me exactly when I needed it, no questions asked just comfort and sincerity and she was a great listener. I felt her kindness and care as she sat in front of me. The whole episode turned out to be a very good thing but that day and at that moment I needed exactly what Rae was giving me and I have never forgotten it. I rarely cry but we both shed tears that day and it was as if she helped wash the pain out. I stepped out of the office with a new outlook and I knew that if I needed her going forward she would be there, no questions asked. Genuine kindness is a gift given because you care.

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