Post #4 in a series by KDL Executive Director Lance Werner on creating better libraries and stronger communities through kindness, empathy and love.
Kindness is a component of empathy and love, and vice versa. Kindness is something that is intentional — it requires work, especially if you’re not in a very good mood. Living a kind life should be sought after for a variety of reasons, but kindness in public service is absolutely critical. If you are somebody who can’t be kind in public service, then please don’t be in public service. We’re in a big old war here, and you’re doing a disservice to the entire profession. We need you to bring your “A” game even when it’s hard and be kind to people every day. When you treat people kindly, it lifts you up at the same time. Suddenly, the burden of your day doesn’t seem so heavy anymore. Again, kindness in life and in public service should be a goal.
Why be kind? There are a million reasons. Being kind to others may make you feel happier yourself. Periodically, I battle with depression. If you’ve never experienced depression, it feels like you’re standing at the bottom of a big dark hole and there’s no light. What you do during those times is be strong and reach out, and you still try to be kind. When I try to be kind — do what’s right and do what’s hard — I do start to feel better. It’s a start. It’s a toehold on the incline, the beginning of the journey to get out of that spot.
Kindness increases positive emotions: love, contentment, joy, hope and interest. It also decreases negative ones. It also might slow aging. Too bad it won’t help with the Dad Bod, sorry to say! Kindness can decrease chronic pain, or so I’ve been told. I am also somebody who suffers from chronic back pain. I’ve had back pain for 20 years — sometimes it’s so debilitating that I can’t go to work or get dressed. During those times, I am hugely dependent on my wife and others around me. I don’t know if kindness helps with the pain, but it definitely makes me feel better about being such a burden on them. It also helps me cope with the guilt. If you’re somebody who has to deal with chronic pain, there’s a sense of guilt that comes with it — there shouldn’t be, but there is.
Kindness can create a higher sense of emotional warmth, which may reduce blood pressure. Kindness makes for better relationships. That’s obvious, because kindness increases empathy. When I was the Director of Capital Area District Library (CADL) in Lansing, Michigan, before I came to Kent District Library, we worked in the downtown branch. It happens to be right between the bus station, the liquor store and the park, which means that the library is where people who are homeless come every day. At least a third of the people in the downtown branch were experiencing homelessness and many suffered from schizophrenia. What a lot of people don’t know is that people who are living with schizophrenia are typically less violent than the general population. And when they come into public places like the library, they are scared. So you develop a sense of empathy and warmth toward them and get to know who they are; you spend time with them.
I still work the floor. I go to all 19 KDL branches and work the desk. I’m not very good at it, but I think it’s an important experience. I also think employees appreciate seeing me walk in their shoes. I spend that time with folks. When I spent that time with those people with schizophrenia, they developed a comfort level with me and they started having fewer problems in the library because they didn’t feel scared. Imagine being trapped in a nightmare all the time. It makes me want to be a rock for them. Kindness develops that empathy, which is so important to what we do. I can’t state that enough. Kindness decrease the bias towards others, and it’s contagious.