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Changing Your Relationships Through the Power of Kindness

Air Date 01/12/2017

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Author Shaunti Feldhahn challenges listeners to practice small acts of kindness to see the positive difference it will make in their relationships.

Episode Transcript

Opening:

Jim Daly: I want to begin the broadcast today with Romans 2:4, "Don't you know it's God's kindness that leads one to repentance?" John, you have heard me share that from time to time.

John Fuller: On more than one occasion. I mean it seems like about every week you're referring to that passage of Scripture.

Jim: Because I think it's so powerful. I think it's that tool in the Christian's arsenal, the thing that God gives us that really the enemy of our soul cannot compete with. He cannot compete with God's kindness and with His love. The problem is we don't use that tool often enough, and I think it's because me personally, it's my own fleshly nature at times. I don't want to respond with kindness or love, because frankly, I like being a bit upset about the guy that cut me off or you know, whatever happened.

John: It feels good, for some reason, doesn't it?

Jim: Right and that's the truth. I've quoted the verse many times. I believe for whatever reason we overlook the importance of kindness and it is I believe one of the core gifts that God gives us to compete in this world for the souls of those around us and for ourselves.

John: And it makes all the world of difference in relationships and in marriage in particular, and on today's "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly we'll be talking about that. Our guest is Shaunti Feldhahn. She's been on this broadcast a number of times, many, many times, and she's a very popular speaker, a best-selling author, a social researcher, and much of what she does is intended to help you have a better relationship. That's why she's here. And she's written a new book called The Kindness Challenge.

Body:

Jim: Shaunti, welcome back to Focus.

Shaunti Feldhahn: It is always great to be with you guys.

Jim: You have been here maybe 12, 13, 14 times.

Shaunti: Something like that. I know, it's crazy.

Jim: We need to get you a permanent hotel room right over here.

Shaunti: Excellent, you know I love these mountains here.

Jim: Let me ask you this. Let's start with the bigger question. What is kindness, and how is it different from being nice?

Shaunti: You know it's a great question, because when I started to look at this—you know all my books are based on these research studies, right--and I had seen for years that kindness had this power to transform relationships. But what is it? It seems so vague. You know, I mean like being nice, right? It just seems vague and what it is.

Jim: You teach your kids to do it, but you're not even sure, you know, yeah.

Shaunti: So it was interesting. As I started plugging away at this, I found that kindness is actually three separate things together, really is what makes up kindness. It's withholding being negative, eliminating negativity; it's finding things to praise and being positive and affirming; and it's doing something. It's doing an act of generosity or kindness for someone. And if you do those three things, it really is transformative.

And so we tested this actually in this research project. It was fascinating. For 30 days we recruited; there were more than 700 people that tested this, called "The 30-Day Kindness Challenge." And we did all the before and after surveys and found that if you pick somebody that you want to have a better relationship with—and it could be somebody you already have an okay [relationship]—like your spouse. You know, you already have [an] okay [relationship—

John: Hopefully you have a good relationship already, yeah.

Shaunti: --yeah, but you want it to be better. Or it could even be like your kids, or the colleague that drives you nuts, you know. It's so simple. I mean it's super simple. But we found that 89 percent of relationships improved. That is this super powerful technique really, that you can use, and it's really the kind of kindness that Jesus asked us to have.

Jim: Well, let me ask you this, though, because if it's that profound and that amazing, why do we tend not to use that tool, like I said in the opening? We tend to veer back into our own desire for bitterness or being upset of being mad at our spouse or whoever that person might be. Why do we lean that direction rather than to a healthier solution?

Shaunti: Well, I think, first of all, I think you guys hit the nail on the head. Sometimes you think it just feels better in the moment, so you know, when somebody cuts you off in traffic, "I am not going to let them!" You know (Laughter), I'm gonna stand by my rights.

Jim: It's competition, man.

Shaunti: It's competition, but it rarely feels good later, right, you know, and when somebody is pushing your buttons and you respond in that same way, it rarely feels good later. It might feel satisfying in the moment, you know. And honestly, I think that in most cases most of us want to be kind to others. The problem—at least what I found in the research—the problem is that most of us have no idea all day long how often we are unkind, and we never realize it.

Jim: I would think that is true, particularly in the Christian community, because we are not always good with looking in the mirror. We think we're being kind. How does a person become more acquainted with how they're projecting either kindness or unkindness?

Shaunti: Okay, so here's where we come back to this 30-Day Kindness Challenge, which by the way, I want to thank Focus for being a partner in, because you guys have been one of the main people that has helped launch this. And really, it is the way. You have to do some sort of a purposeful effort. In our case, it's the 30-Day Kindness Challenge, or for you the Focus on the Family 30-Day Kindness Challenge. And if you do a purposeful effort, which in our case was those three things every day, suddenly what happens is you start to see how often, for example, you're negative.

Jim: Huh.

Shaunti: And you had no idea. And I'll give you an example of that. So I would have sworn when you talk about eliminating negativity, right, I would have sworn that wouldn't have been a problem for me.

Like, you know, the No. 2 and three things on the Kindness Challenge, I would have thought, okay, I need to work on being more affirming; maybe I'm not as affirming as I need to be. I need to work on that. I need to work on doing more acts of generosity.

But you know, I've got that anti-negativity thing down. I'm a glass-half-full kind of person. I'm, you know, good at that. Oh my word! Once I started cataloguing all the types of negativity, I realized I am negative every single day because one of the types of negativity is exasperation.

Jim: Oh man.

Shaunti: And I'm exasperated with my kids all the time. I get exasperated at Jeff all the time. And I don't realize that when you get exasperated, one of the things that you're saying is, "You're an idiot," and you would never say it out loud like that, right? I would never say to my kids, "You're an idiot." But when I get exasperated, that's what I'm saying. And you would never know until you sat down and actually picked a person that you were going to be intentionally kind to, and suddenly all this stuff comes up and you see what you need to work on.

Jim: You know, I've got two or three ways I want to go with these questions, so let me just kind of knock these off.

Shaunti: Sure!

Jim: When you look at the fruit of the Spirit, you know, love, joy, peace, goodness, kindness, mercy, kindness is in there. But it seems to be an understated value in the Christian community today, and I don't know if it's modernity. We talk a lot about that. You've got cable news. You've got a lot of input coming in that sets you up against other people that don't think like you think, etc. It's very enticing, because I think it appeals to our flesh.

Shaunti: Yeah.

Jim: But as a Christian, we've got to be rooted in His fruit and it's right there for us. I'm so grateful He wrote it down for us, so that we could see clearly what He was hoping for.

But how do we jettison that feeling like, oh, you know, kindness is a pretty soft quality? It's hard to feel kindness is really an important attribute.

Shaunti: And it's fascinating that you put it that way, because I think that that's a misunderstanding that we have, that you can't be kind and be competitive. Yes, you can, but it's how you're competitive. And you can't be kind and be strong. Yes, you can, but it's how you do it.

And so for example, back in the day I used to write a newspaper column, and with this newspaper column, it was a debate on the issues of the day, and it was me as a more conservative, Evangelical believer in Jesus, and I would debate the issues with an atheist feminist of, you know, on all that sort of side of things. And we would go at it, and I found myself in this debate getting harsher and harsher and harsher, and because it was almost like that was what the culture expected. And we have to say "no." We have to say, look what Jesus did. He was in the middle of a very difficult culture, in a very difficult time, and yet He never was unkind. He got angry, but He was never unkind.

And it reminds me of something that, when I started that column, it's sort of a long story, but when I had a sense that God was gonna be leading me in writing that column, and I had a sense that it was gonna go further than just one little newspaper, that it was gonna be nationally syndicated someday, which it eventually was, and we were in 100 newspapers--these huge newspapers around the country, back when there were still newspapers. (Laughter)

Jim: I still like newspapers.

Shaunti: But it's interesting. I was praying about it, and I felt this strong sense that God was saying, "I am going to give you a chance to speak my truth to a culture that desperately needs it, but if you cannot speak My truth in My love, don't do it."

Jim: Wow.

Shaunti: And I think that's something that we often miss as Christians, is that yes, His truth is crucial, but if we can't speak it in His love and His kindness, it's far better in most cases to stay silent, because we can often do more damage to His way and not bring glory to Him.

Jim: Right. Let me bring it closer to home. We've touched on this issue of within the spousal relationship. This can be really difficult at times, because you know that person so well and you're with each other almost every day. If you travel a little you may be away from home occasionally. But you know each other well, more than anybody else in the world, right, in terms of your spouse.

Shaunti: It's easy to take them for granted.

Jim: And that's the whole point. (Laughter) You took the words right out of my mouth, because that--

Shaunti: Oh, sorry!

Jim: --but that's where it goes. You tend to treat them differently than you treat neighbors and friends and maybe even extended family members. And I'm sure many couples know that conversation. It's, "How could you treat them better than you treat me?" And I know people listening are going, "Yes, I had that conversation with my husband yesterday."

Why is it that we take for granted those who are closest to us, and we overextend kindness to people who, in the end, don't really have a lot to do with us in the long run?

Shaunti: It's a hard answer, but honestly, it's because we care about what the other people think about us more than what we care about what our spouse thinks of us. We want other people to view us well. Our spouse is already married; he has to stick with it, you know or she has to stick with it.

And we don't realize that honestly, everything that God has given us is something to be grateful for, and so often our lack of kindness is because we feel entitled. Let's just be honest: we feel entitled to whatever the other person is giving.

Jim: Selfish.

Shaunti: Right, it's selfish, it's awful, and honestly it is one of the reasons that it makes such a difference when you say, "I'm gonna purposefully do this, you know, I'm going to actually take, you know, time and try and figure out how to be kind to this person, because suddenly you start seeing your own stuff instead of always seeing the other person's stuff, which is, oh, it's so easy; it is so easy.

Jim: Okay, John, you are a nice person. You're a kind person.

John: That's not the same.

Jim: Do you ever get pushed to the point, though. I mean I think I see it sometimes in you when you're getting throttled a little bit. Do you lose it?

John: Oh, I lose it.

Jim: Do you like hold it in?

Shaunti: I cannot imagine John Fuller ever losing it.

Jim: Do you hold it in and then bubble out?

John: I have moments where I erupt, and I grew up in a family where that was kind of the standard. You blow up, and then you get over it, right? I mean kind of a German-Irish approach to life where you bury it. You spill it all out there. I've tried to work on that, and I think God has done a remarkable thing in my heart, but no, I can give something some thought and then kind of rise with indignation and be upset about it and then shoot back, or sometimes I think what you're talking about is, I don't think about it but I just shoot back. (Laughter) You know, I mean it really is the people we are closest to.

Jim: You are very kind, and I just know sometimes, even if we're talking, sometimes I'm rubbing you the wrong way. (Laughing)

John: Well, that's because we're so close, Jim, and it's hard to be kind to people we're around right? (Laughing) So let me just take a moment and remind our listeners that Shaunti's book is The Kindness Challenge, and you can find out more about the Focus on the Family 30-Day Kindness Challenge, and maybe some of those shortcoming times that you can bolster. We've got details about it. You'll get 30 days of helpful tips when you sign up at http://focusonthefamily.com/radio.

Shaunti: You know, John, you mentioned something about when those times you want to explode, and it's so common that people will ask me, "But isn't that better sometimes that you let the steam out of the kettle so that the kettle doesn't explode, you know?" And it's funny, 'cause actually, I would have thought that, and it turns out that that is completely inaccurate neurologically.

It turns [out] we all have bought into this idea that it is better to let a little steam out of the kettle, and actually what brain scientists have found in recent years is all that that does when you vent about someone, you know, I maybe speak nicely to you, when Jim pushes your buttons, you might speak nicely to him, but then you go home, and you go to your wife and you're like, "Oh, I can't believe what he did today," right? Or you're mad at your husband, or you're mad at your wife, and you can be sweet to them, and then you go to the office—

John: And you talk about them.

Shaunti: --and you talk about them. It turns out that the brain scientists have found that all that does is it further activates the brain's anger system, and it actually, what it does is it's more like turning up the heat under the kettle. It turns it up and up—

Jim: When you're venting

Shaunti: --when you're venting. It just turns it up further and further and further and makes it worse and worse and worse. And instead, that's one of the reasons why as we started studying what it means to be kind and the fact that one piece of that puzzle is to not be negative and not even speak negatively about someone to someone else, is that it turns out that that is like reducing the heat, or like taking the pot off the stove altogether. Because what happens is, as you stop going to your wife and complaining about Jim or complaining about your spouse to somebody else—

Jim: Hey, wait a minute, how'd I…? (Laughter)

Shaunti: --how did that become so big, yeah? As you do that, what happens is, you start noticing the positive about that person more. When you are unable to say something negative about somebody and you have to find something positive to say, you start seeing those things more. They were always there; it wasn't like they're just new. They were always there; you just didn't notice them.

Jim: Let me ask you this with the gender side. I know there's always exceptions, the 80/20 rule, and I know somebody will say, "I'm not that way, Jim," and I get that. But there typically are generalities. And do you find that in this area with male and femaleness, that males have a certain way of dealing with kindness and women have a different way of dealing with kindness or expressing kindness?

Shaunti: Yeah.

Jim: Let me give you an example. I think Jean is terrific. She is really good about capturing the desire to always want to express kindness. And of course, I can come along, and I'll make a comment here or I'll make a comment there that –

Shaunti: No.

Jim: --kind of erodes that desire in their heart (Laughter) to be kind. So I'm actually--

John: We're all tracking with you, Jim.

Jim: --tearing down--I hope so--you know, kind of tearing down her desire to be kind. How does that interplay, I guess, is the question that I'm asking? How do we mess it up in our marriages when you have good-hearted people trying to do the right thing, but we tend to tear each other down?

Shaunti: Yeah, well, it's part of that thing of we have no idea every day how often we are unkind, and we would never intend to. And I'll give you an example of one of the different ways that we've found that men and women handle this differently, 'cause you know, that's where my heart tends to go back to is all that gender stuff from my research. But I actually found, for example, if you are trying to express affirmation to somebody, it tends to be that you tend to give the type of affirmation you would want to receive, and so for women it's all about, "Oh honey, I love you," you know, and doing these, you know, loving, sweet, kind things for their husband to show love, and it doesn't come naturally to our lips to say, "Oh, thank you so much. Oh, I really appreciate what you did. You know, thank you for unloading the dishwasher, you know. And I really appreciate that you did that."

Jim: You think more like, I've been waiting 50 years for you to do that. (Laughter)

Shaunti: Yes, exactly. Well, and for a woman, it doesn't come naturally to say "thank you." Well, it turns out that, that for a guy, that's the kind of affirmation and praise that he most needs. That is the kindest thing that you can do for your husband is notice that he took the stuff out of the dishwasher. But for guys, saying "thank you" and these sort[s] of words of appreciation, they come naturally to a guy. But I'm sorry, guys, saying, "Oh honey, thank you so much for unloading the dishwasher," that is not the type of love and kindness that is going to most hit your wife."

Jim: It's kind of sounding like you gave her a blender for your anniversary.

Shaunti: Kind of. (Laughter)

Jim: It's almost as bad.

Shaunti: And instead, it does make a difference. Again, it was fascinating as we started to learn about the types of things that allowed us to give praise, or not allowed us to give praise. One of the big obstacles is that you're giving the type you would want to receive, but it's gonna be different for your husband and for your wife.

Jim: What in the research that you saw, and maybe even in some of the examples—

Shaunti: Yeah.

Jim: --with those you talked to and they took the 30-Day Challenge, what result came on the back end of that? Did you see some people that were having real difficulty in their marriages see a flower, see something new, something fresh, something spring in their relationship?

Shaunti: That's a great way of putting it. Yeah, it was, this was one of the things that almost made me cry. I was so excited when I saw some of the results come back, 'cause there was a whole study group of people out of that 700 that, there were about 25 people who were doing it because their spouse had had an affair, and they were trying to recover from the worst possible betrayal and trying to recover from a very, very difficult season in their life and in their marriage. And some people just had a very hard time. And they were all people who the spouse was repentant, generally, you know. It wasn't that, you know, they were trying to push a boulder uphill that wasn't, you know, willing to be pushed.

There were some people who had a very hard time forgiving and dropped out of the study, as you can imagine, 'cause it does require forgiveness. But of the people who stuck with it, there were some dramatic changes, because when you do the 30-Day Kindness Challenge, it doesn't just impact the other person, and it doesn't just help the relationship; it changes you.

And you start to see ways that you had actually been adding to things, even though, obviously, the choices they made were awful, but that you had actually been hurting the relationship you were trying to heal. And seeing how negative you were, and seeing, for example, the exasperation, you know, or seeing the things that you had no clue that, you know, maybe your sarcastic nature was getting in the way and he wasn't joking, you know? (Laughing) You don't know what I'm talking about, do you?

Jim: Yeah, my eyes are not sarcastic. You're sticking me with a knife.

Shaunti: And there were so many of these things that the average person can learn even in the face of very, very difficult situations. So it's very transformative.

Jim: Well, I mean that's perhaps Ground Zero, that kind of an example where there's been an affair. When you were saying that, I literally sensed people going, "Well, she has every right to be upset and not to be kind," and again, here we are in the body of Christ for the most part. I know we have some listeners who are not in a relationship with Jesus; we would hope that you would get there soon. (Laughing) But that's really for us as Christians, it's one of the core tenets of our faith. How do we show that kind of kindness in the most nitty-gritty difficulties in our relationship?

Shaunti: Well, and I'll you, and it's not just the betrayal of a spouse, which is obviously the biggest personal betrayal.

Jim: Even God says for that reason you have a way out, but other things, too.

Shaunti: Yeah, but probably every person listening to this can identify with those occasions where we are being mistreated, where a boss is being cruel, right? It's not just not being nice to you, but actively mistreating. There is active injustice. Your mother-in-law or your stepparent, or whoever it is, this is a difficult relationship legitimately for a reason.

And yet, what to me one of the touchstones was, when I started looking at this and realizing what we're called to, and I looked more closely at the Sermon on the Mount, and I looked more closely at what all of us have sort of known as the Golden Rule, you know, "Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you," you look at that. We all teach that to our kids, we all want to live by that.

But here's the hard truth. In context, what Jesus is saying, He's talking about when you are mistreated, and so in context what He's saying is do unto others as you'd have them do unto you, it's actually treat others who are not being kind to you in the kind and generous way you wish they were treating you. It's even harder. It's even more challenging than just oh, be nice to others the way you want them to be nice to you. No, it's in the face of injustice.

Jim: That is so perceptive, and often when I speak to groups I'll mention Luke 6, and the Golden Rule, there's a couple of paragraphs before that is stated that kind of put the parameters around it, and you're right. If someone takes something from you. He goes through a list of bad behavior toward you. It's not the nice guys; it's not the neighbor that will give you a cup of sugar. It's the one who's going to scorn you and say to get off the lawn, and "I really don't like your kids playing over here, and tell them next time to pick up their trash 'cause it's blowing on my side of the street." It's the guy you don't want to talk to. That's who He's talking about.

Shaunti: Absolutely.

Jim: That's the guy you gotta be kind toward.

Shaunti: That's what He says, if you are nice to people who are nice to you, uh, yeah--

Jim: What good is it? Even sinners do that.

Shaunti: --so what good is that? (Laughing) So, He is specifically challenging those of us who follow Him specifically, not really giving us an out to say, and in those bad mistreatment, somebody is being mean, somebody is being cruel, your husband is being unkind, your wife is treating you with scorn, that you should absolutely treat them in the kind and gentle and generous way you wish they were treating you. And He honors that. And oh my gosh, it transforms the relationship. It transforms you.

And yet it is one of those things that we have to come in our own heart to the point that we can say, "Lord, I want to be like You. I'm not very good at it necessarily, but I want to try. And so, help me have the strength that I don't have in myself to speak gently to my husband when all I can do is picture these mean things he's done to me," or "to speak with kindness to my wife and listen to her when I feel like she's layering scorn on my head and because if you don't, that really is conditional. That is conditional love.

Jim: Well, Shaunti, you know it's not an accident that you're with us today, because we are about 30 days out from Valentine's Day, and we all thought this would be a perfect time to launch with Focus on the Family the kindness challenge with Shaunti and her book, The Kindness Challenge: 30 Days to Improve Any Relationship.

So we're gonna go for this together, and we want you to take the challenge. I mean that's what's great about this. And what I love about it, Shaunti, is it drives us, again, back to the fruit of the Spirit. This is the character of God. And I love those kind[s] of challenges. It's easy to rise to the world's challenges, right? But to get us more rooted in God's character, I think, is wonderful, and that's what we're trying to achieve with this.

So we want you to take that 30-day challenge, and you can start by going to the website.

John: Yeah, at http://focusonthefamily.com/radio. You'll sign up and you'll find the 30 days of helpful tips coming your way, leading you up to Valentine's Day, and hopefully you'll get back to us and let us know through Facebook or phone call or e-mail that, "Hey, I tried that, and it worked!" And tell us how. I mean, it would be great to follow up that way.

Jim: All right, the challenge is, are you and I gonna do this?

John: I will commit to being kind to you for the next 30 days. (Laughter)

Jim: I meant you with Dena and me with Jean. Come on.

John: Yeah, I absolutely have got to do this at home.

Jim: Okay, we're doin' it, but don't tell anybody that we're doing it, especially not Jean and Dena.

John: I guess, they listen, yeah.

Shaunti: They're not allowed to listen to this broadcast. (Laughter)

Jim: We're going to occupy them elsewhere like we do often with children, but anyway.

Shaunti: Well, and by the way, we often say if you don't want to tell your spouse that you're doing this, don't.

Jim: That's a good thing, actually.

John: See if they find out.

Shaunti: Like it's actually not a bad thing at all, because it actually helps for you to be able to try things without feeling like you're on the spot.

John: Okay, so sign up for the Focus on the Family 30-Day Challenge, and while you're at it, get a copy of Shaunti's book, The Kindness Challenge, and a CD or download of this program. Again, http://focusonthefamily.com/radioor call us, 800 the letter A, and the word FAMILY.

In fact, when you make a generous donation today to help this ministry, we'll send the book to you as our way of saying thanks for joining our partnership team.

Jim: John, we'll do the challenge, as we said, and we'll update listeners in a couple of weeks and we'll let you know. We'll be honest, let you know if we got there and how we did.

John: Or how we haven't done, whatever the case may be. It sounds good and we'll encourage listeners to go to the website for the link to the Kindness Challenge.

Jim: Shaunti, it's been great to have you. I guess you're now our accountability partner.

Shaunti: Oh gosh! (Laughter)

Jim: So, John and I will check in.

Shaunti: Can you be mine?

John: We'll give you a call in about a month.

Jim: No, you gotta tell us. We're gonna call you and say, "Okay, here's how it has gone." Are you up for that?

Shaunti: Absolutely and you have to call me and say, "Are you being exasperated with your children?" (Laughter)

Jim: We won't ask that question, but it's been great to have you.

Shaunti: Great to be with you.

Closing:

John: And thanks for listening, and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team here, thanks for listening in today. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time. You'll hear from Jan Harrison. She offers spiritual encouragement for coping with a very difficult circumstance: the loss of an adult child. That's next time as we once again help you and your family thrive.

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Guest

Shaunti Feldhahn

View Bio

A graduate of Harvard University and a former Wall Street analyst, Shaunti Feldhahn is a popular speaker, best-selling author and social researcher. Her books include For Women Only, For Men Only, Through a Man's Eyes and The Good News About Marriage. Shaunti and her husband, Jeff, reside in Atlanta and have two children. Learn more about Shaunti by visiting her website, www.shaunti.com.