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Every person you encounter is presently involved with a problem and it’s your task to discover what that problem is before you can help them with it. Let’s explore a simple example. On first encountering an unknown person they may be having a greeting anxiety, because many people are painfully shy of strangers or even saying hello to friends. In that case a smile and saying hi may be all that is needed and that is a simple act of kindness. The best acts of kindness are those that give the other person greater freedom of personal action, and this example serves as an illustration because it does give the other person the flexibility they need to respond.

To achieve an act of kindness requires being able to observe the facts of reality clearly, and to respond to them appropriately. We all have a vast number of preexisting habits, which usually help us solve our problems, but sometimes some people have created habits for themselves that interfere with responding in ways that will help them. In that case a kind act will be helping them see how their existing habit is hurting them and how a different habit might work to eliminate their problem. The best acts of kindness are based on understanding the root problem and doing the thing that clarifies the problem or eliminates it. Changing the confounding habit is the goal. If that can be done it will have lasting impact, but habits are impossible to change, so what needs to be changed is the immediate precursors, the stimulus, to something which will allow a different habit to form. To do that requires setting up the situations in such a way that the old triggering stimulus is replaced with a new one which will bring about the right, or at least better, results.

In this simple hello illustration, our saying a pleasant hello to a shy person doesn’t change their preexisting internalized habitual behavior because they are merely responding to our stimulus. Thus our seemingly kind act of saying hello first doesn’t get at the root cause of their problem, assuming for this discussion’s sake that it is a problem. What might work in this example would be to walk up in a friendly way, perhaps even with a barely perceptible nod, which would solicit, even force, a hello. This would be a kind act toward that person because it would help them develop the habit of greeting other people. The kind act in this case is helping a shy person develop a slightly more forward habit. Most people, even shy ones, are more comfortable after a few words have been spoken, and this new habit will help them to interact more easily with other people.

The problem with shyness is the opening hello, so helping a shy person to say hello first is a kind act towards them.