Feel-good travel shows are not my usual Netflix binge. And after Eat, Pray, Love I was all set on watching wealthy white people find their zen. So it was with a little hesitancy that I watched The Kindness Diaries.
Leon Logothetis is a British ex-broker traveling the world via motorbike—penniless and friendless. Each day is a new city and a new challenge: find generous humans to house him for the night. As you might expect, Logothetis sleeps in his sidecar a fair amount. But more times than is believable in today’s political climate, people actually take in the chatty, road-worn, Londoner. And they do so happily without expecting anything in return.
A few episodes in and The Kindness Diaries had me hooked; it turns out after months of real and “fake” news covering our worst deeds, my faith in human kindness was low. I needed to see people behaving kindly. In fact, the word “kindness” is what got me to pause on Logothetis’ diaries in the first place.
We’ve lost that kindness feeling
Call me a Debbie Downer, but I’m not the only one who thought kindness was dead. A survey conducted by Kindness USA shows that over half of Americans feel kindness has deteriorated in the last decade. And only 25 percent think that their fellow citizens are kind people. Our perception of politicians and business leaders is even worse, with only five percent of people identifying political and corporate leaders as kind. Basically, there is a widespread belief that kindness is a thing of the past.
That’s where Logothetis aims to prove me, and the rest of us kindness doubters wrong. He knows that kindness isn’t dead and he won’t rest until the truth is known.
“I was giving a speech,” Logothetis recounted to me, “and a nine-year-old girl came up to me at the end, and she goes, ‘Mr. Leon.’ I'm like, ‘Yes?’ And then she said, ‘Kindness is not rocket science.’ I was like, ‘You're absolutely right...now go tell your friends.’” [Laughs]
Kindness is not rocket science.
If kindness is such a simple concept, why do you think it’s hard for us to practice right now?
For hundreds of thousands of years, what kept us alive was our connection with other people. Now, we are in a situation, [Holds up his mobile phone] many of us in the western world, where we don't need other people to stay alive. Unfortunately, we’ve turned that into, "We don't need other people to be happy," but we do.
OK, so what convinced you that trust and kindness weren’t dead? What made you want to spend your life searching for moments of humanity?
The only way to live a happy life is to be connected to other people. If you have no trust, and you have no connection, it is inevitable that you will be unhappy. I was fed up with being unhappy, so I sought out connectivity with other human beings.
Yesterday, and I was not in a particularly good head space, but I decided to get on my bike and ride around the beach. I ended up meeting a guy that I knew. We sat and we chatted and a few other people came. Just that process of community made me feel better. That's really what it's all about: the sense of connectivity.
That’s what forced me out of the hole as a young man, the pain of being disconnected. I didn’t want to feel that way anymore.
Say I’m someone who is in a hole, feeling disconnected, what do you want to tell them?
It's okay to not be okay. The way to be okay is to connect with another human being.
What are some surprising kindnesses that you found on your travels? Something that really made your heart melt?
The main one on my journey with The Kindness Diaries was Tony, the homeless guy that let me stay with him. In many ways, he was an exact opposite mirror of me. I had everything on the outside, but nothing on the inside. He had nothing on the outside, but everything on the inside. It was a wake up call. It was a beautiful moment. This chap taught me that true wealth was not in our wallets, but in our hearts. My night with him is an example of real trust. I remember the next morning after I left him, I started to think to myself, I was like, "Leon, you were asleep for like six, seven hours, on the streets of Pittsburgh with a stranger." There were no cameras. The cameras had left, and it was just me and him.
Yeah, it takes a lot of trust on both parts to rely on a stranger. What is your secret there?
Use your intuition. Your intuition will tell you if someone can be trusted or if someone cannot be trusted. Of course, sometimes you get it wrong, but use your intuition.
If someone comes up to you and says, "Hey, come to this dark alley," you’re going to be like, "No thank you. I'm not going to come down to this dark alley with you." [Laughs] But there are so many people that go down not literal but figurative dark alleys with people that they shouldn't. They're not listening to their intuition. Trust your intuition.
Another thing to remember is: don't draw everyone with the same brush. In the show, you’ll see that not everyone is kind. But that doesn’t mean that everyone is mean.
Let’s get real about trusting your intuition to keep you safe. Do you think that what you do, staying with random strangers would have been as possible if you were a woman?
There is no doubt, that as a white male, it is easier. No doubt. Does that mean as a person of color or as a woman, it's not possible? Absolutely not. It is possible. I have traveled around the world, and I've seen women traveling by themselves, getting into more hairy situations than I have, but they have to be more careful. If you're at a bar, you have to be careful. If you're in certain situations, you have to use your intuition to the nth degree. I've seen it happen, but it is harder.
Your show is definitely inspiring but we're not all going to go to jump on a motorbike and do what you've done. What small acts can we do to connect with people near us and to build community?
When you are feeling down, pick up the phone and connect with someone. It sounds so simple, but in many instances, even though we want to connect with someone, our brains tell us not to. It wants to keep the status quo, even if the status quo is really bad. Just take small baby steps. Don't think to yourself, "Oh, that's such a silly, small thing" Well, it may be a small thing, but it can shift your life.
Do you have any tips for connecting with strangers, and getting the conversation started?
Two ways. First of all, find something that you both have in common. We always can have something in common. For example, one of the things that I had in common with Tony was that he had a dream, and I have a dream. We connected. Second, listen. Let the other person feel that you care.
To do that, to care about someone, it requires a level of empathy. How do you think being empathetic leads to having a better life or a more richer human experience?
As human beings we have good, we have bad, we have everything in between. If you are not in touch with your empathy, if you're not in touch with your compassion, then you are not in touch with your humanity. If you're not in touch with your humanity, then you are not in touch with your birth right, which is to be a full and present human being.
If you are not in touch with your empathy, if you're not in touch with your compassion, then you are not in touch with your humanity.
We’ve talked about person-to-person connections, but how can businesses use kindness to better connect with their customers?
I would say be real. I would say be authentic. There's nothing wrong with making money. Make as much money as you can, but be real. Do what you are truly are inspired to do.
For example, people often say to me, "This kindness thing, is this just fake? Are you just doing it to make money?" I'm like, "Look. Two things. First of all, if I wanted to make money, I wouldn't be a kindness advocate. I wouldn't fund my own television shows about kindness. I would stay as a broker if it was all about money.”
The kindness part of it is who I am. It’s what I believe in. Does that make me Mother Theresa? No. I’m not perfect but I’m doing what I believe in. The byproduct of that may be making money, but it's not my defining factor.
So, authenticity and caring about customers can help businesses connect beyond the money?
Yeah. This is a company called Spiritual Gangster. Now look, I don't know who owns Spiritual Gangster. What I do know is that I do feel like they care. Does that mean that they're not interested in making money? No, but I do feel that the people that created this care in some way. Do they care like my mom cares for me? No, of course not. Do they care like my dog cares for me? No, of course not, but I do feel that in a way they care about me. Now, I could be wrong. It could just be marketing. I have no idea, but I do sense that they do have a sense of authenticity.
Do you think that customer service plays a role in building authentic relationships between businesses and customers in general?
Absolutely. If you're calling me and you're trying to book a hotel and you say something is wrong with the hotel and I say to you, "I don't really care. Please call someone else." You're going to be like, "I'm never calling these people again." If the person goes on the phone says, "Oh, Chelsea, I am so sorry about this. I know what it's like when you book a holiday and things don't go well. I am going to do everything in my power to fix this, because I know what it's like. Actually, I went probably a couple of weeks ago and the same thing happened to me, so bear with me and we'll figure it out." You're going to be like, "Oh, okay. This is great."
It’s about finding a way to connect.
Finally, what's the difference between being kind and being nice?
I would say that being kind comes from the heart, and I would say being nice comes from the head. You can be kind and you can be nice, but if you are just nice and you're not kind, then you're not really being present for the person or for yourself.
You can be kind and you can be nice, but if you are just nice and you're not kind, then you're not really being present for the person or for yourself.
[It should be noted that I had technical difficulties at the start of our chat and Leon was very kind while he waited for me to sort it out.]
Chelsea Larsson is one of the forces behind brand content on Zendesk and Relate. A communicator in both words and pictures, Chelsea enjoys writing features that encourage new conversations about old ideas, and drawing colorful narratives that make readers smile. Twitter: @ChelseaLarsson.