One of my favorite fictional heroines is Mma Precious Ramotswe from The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novels by Alexander McCall Smith.

Smith is a great storyteller and Precious is simply precious – a woman with heart, curiosity, and wisdom.

In The Colors of All the Cattle, where Precious is strong-armed into running for public office, in a closing soliloquy she wishes for everyone to remember all the people they met during the day and realize they all share the same hopes and fears. If they remember that, they will be kinder and experience less conflict in their lives.

Another axiom that shares a similar value is Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes. This is a call to be less judgmental, to foster understanding, and to encourage empathy.

However, Precious’s call is to be kind, not to simply be empathetic.

When you think of what defines a kind person, the behaviors that come to mind are friendliness, courteousness, politeness, appreciativeness, thoughtfulness, gratefulness, gentleness, helpfulness, and generosity. Can one person be all these things? While this list may feel unattainable, these behaviors and values are part of who we are as humans and reflect the best of who we can be.        

Charles Darwin, in his studies of human evolution, believed that we are a social and caring species. He argued that sympathy and caring for others are instinctual. It’s important to remember that being kind does not mean being weak; we do have to assert ourselves. Current research supports that devoting resources to others, rather than seeking more and more for ourselves, brings about lasting well-being.

Kindness is an interpersonal skill to develop and doing so can help grow a stronger, more positive sense of self. We can all take steps to ensure we are being kind every day. Frankly, being nice when you are in a good mood is easy: smile, say thank you, let someone into your lane while driving, give away something you don’t use anymore, compliment someone, share knowledge.

Sometimes being kind is hard. This is especially true when someone say something unkind to you because it’s easy to react in the same way. There are times when practicing kindness becomes character building: be pleasant when dealing with a negative customer-service issue, donate sacrificially and not just when you have some extra income, offer to help someone before you are asked, don’t discriminate who to be kind to, don’t expect anything in return, make peace with someone who has hurt you, say “I’m sorry” when you’re wrong.

Precious’s philosophy is about noticing and finding joy in the small things: “small acts of helping others, if one could; small ways of making one’s own life better: acts of love, acts of tea, acts of laughter.”

Know that kindness is contagious, and your acts of kindness will generate more kindheartedness in the world.