Walking around a market in France last week, my eye was caught by an orange T-shirt being worn by one of the stall holders. Its message read, “In a world where you can be anything, be kind”. How true I thought, as my mind was drawn back to a feedback comment relating to a recent webinar I had delivered with my co-host (@verdantLearn), saying, “Overall, it was a wonderful webinar/workshop. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Sarah and Lucy were very kind and helpful.”
Mention of kindness in my evaluations is unusual; participants generally focus on aspects of the workshop content judging whether they were relevant, useful, effective, and, of course, helpful in relation to their career planning. However, when I reflect on this comment, I realise that kindness is a rare commodity in a generally quite harsh and competitive academic culture, and therefore the more greatly appreciated. Being kind indicates compassion and empathy for others. It makes you feel good for other people when you are kind, as well as making you feel good about yourself. Moreover, kindness is a win-win situation and brings out the best in people.
In this month’s blog I thought I’d highlight some published words on kindness and its associated benefits related to careers, work and society:
Should we steer clear of the winner-takes-all approach in academia?
In this Nature article (16/01/2018), Kendal Powell reports on seven interviews conducted with scientists, following their first “Kindness in Science” workshop, held in New Zealand. Tammy Steeves, a conservation geneticist and leader of the Kindness in Science movement, cites “harnessing the power of the collective” as being at the heart of a new ethos in academic conduct, ending the interview by saying: “I believe that kindness in science will lead to better science outcomes. With more scientists working in a truly inclusive way, we will achieve more.”
Meanwhile, Emily Bernhardt, an ecologist professor at Duke University and author of an essay on kindness in science, calls for criticism to be toned down. Science is innately critical and involves much critical thinking, however at the personal level it can be highly demoralising and damaging. “Senior people should be calling out bad behaviour: “I think that’s a little over the top or unkind.””, she says.
The possibility of being kind at work
This LinkedIn article by Karin Lindner is a more general account of the importance of being kind at work, even when others are not so generous themselves. Point 1 in her long list of ways to be kind first tells us to be kind to ourselves; something I had to remember when I started to tell myself off for missing the deadline for my July blog (due to being distracted by the aforementioned holiday in France!). None of us is perfect, nor are those around us – we just have to do the best we can and keep things in perspective. Lindner ends her article by highlighting some of the fringe benefits of kindness: increased self-worth, improved self confidence and a more positive outlook. Who wouldn’t want those?
Human Kind : A hopeful History
This revelatory book by prominent thinker, Rutger Bregman, published by Bloomsbury in May 2020, has received glowing reviews from international press and publishers – and for good reason. Bregman puts forward the argument, with plenty of historical examples, that us humans, rather than being innately selfish and governed by self-interest, as we are taught to believe, actually are innately good, trusting and cooperative (not competitive). He proposes that in order to have a truly democratic society, we must first re-think the human condition and consider ourselves to be kind and altruistic.
#kindness has started to appear more often on social media in relation to academia, perhaps partly as a result of a report published by Wellcome in January 2020 on the culture of research entitled, What researchers think about the culture they work in. Key findings include the following results: “78% of researchers think that high levels of competition have created unkind and aggressive conditions.”; “Nearly two-thirds of researchers (61%) have witnessed bullying or harassment, and 43% have experienced it themselves.”
@AcademicKindness is a Twitter profile created as far back as March 2014, which links to a blog (academickindness.tumblr.com) where researchers can post experiences of unsolicited acts of kindness and generosity. Quoting from an interview by InsideHigherEd. com, its owner Rabia Gregory, associate professor at the University of Missouri, said, “I hope more academics realise that if you care about your profession and want it to continue after you retire, you really do need to be willing to mentor, to offer constructive feedback, to help younger scholars develop networks, to write recommendation letters. Otherwise how will there ever be a new generation of scholars?”
My final example is a previous blog from BioscienceCareers.org, which I wrote just before I set up on my own as an academic career consultant in August 2017. It focuses on being positive in the face of adversity and includes the words of American writer, Keith M. Keith, “If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; Be kind anyway….The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.”
I’m very happy to have been able to inject some kindness into the world of academia over the past three years, by helping researchers and students with their careers. Perhaps I’ve met some of you during that time, or maybe our paths will cross in the future… In the meantime, keep calm and work kind 🙂