(CNN)In a global pandemic, who has time to be kind? But kindness expert Houston Kraft suggests you think about it within this worldwide crisis. Kindness may be wearing a mask to keep others from getting sick, checking in on a friend starting a new project or sitting to listen to a family member who just received a life-changing diagnosis.
The world needs more kindness. Here's how to develop your practice
Especially in a pandemic, kindness can bring meaning to our lives, the lives of others and to the world.
That's the message that Kraft, the author of "Deep Kindness: A Revolutionary Guide for the Way We Think, Talk, and Act in Kindness," is trying to spread. He's the founder of Character Strong, a curriculum and training company that has helped provide him a platform to work with schools around the world.
In a year with Covid-19, social justice protests and a presidential election, cultivating deep kindness is a way of cutting through division and revealing our common humanity.
Here's why Kraft says developing this trait matters, what he's learned on the road and how you can practice kindness in your family or community.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
CNN: What is kindness?
Houston Kraft: I like to define things by what they're not. I was at a school in Texas and this kid approached me and he said, "After listening to your assembly, I realized I'm a really nice person, but I don't think I'm very kind."
I asked, "What's the difference?"
He said, "Everyone at my school thinks that they're kind already. But I think they're just being nice, because being nice is a reaction. If you're nice to me I'll be nice back to you. If I like you, I'll be nice to you. The way you talked, kindness is proactive."
That distinction between nice versus kind is a profound one. Most of our world would say that they're kind, when they're actually just being nice. "Nice" doesn't require nearly as much of us. "Nice" happens when it's convenient, when it's comfortable. The sort of kindness we need right now requires a lot more listening, a lot more discipline, a lot more sacrifice and quite a bit of discomfort.
CNN: What about kindness interests you?
Kraft: I think I have looked at kindness a lot longer than the average person. I've been thinking about how to teach it to young people in order to actually create behavioral change, and that's where we're paying really close attention to something. Why is there the gap between what we say is good, and then, if we're honest, what we're actually good at? I'm obsessed with what's in that gap, because we all say kindness is really important, and yet we're not really good at practicing with each other.
What gets in the way? What prevents me from living a kinder life? The skills that we teach today are going to be the behaviors and culture of tomorrow.
CNN: You write about tossing around kindness like confetti. How does "tossing kindness" like confetti differ from deeper kindness?
Kraft: I think there is damage in quotes like throw "kindness around like confetti" or even the imperative "Just be kind." I hear so often from well-intentioned people that if kindness is free, why wouldn't we spread it? And my argument is no, kindness is not free. When we think about something that's free, we don't allocate resources or time or attention to that thing.
Deep kindness, I would say, costs us discipline over time to practice something day in and day out. That's especially when we don't feel like it because of the discomfort or courage that's going to show up in moments where our reputations are on the line.
CNN: Are kids growing up in a world that's more or less kind than your childhood?
Kraft: We are growing up in a world that is more anxious. Even if there's a desire for greater kindness, it hasn't worked in lots of schools. I see a greater sense of awareness, which is one of the gifts of our social media connectedness. That creates a sense of exposure. Young people have a natural deepened perspective of the world, they see and get access to a lot more information. But because of what's going on in our world, we're also increasing anxiety. Anxiety is one of the biggest barriers to empathy. No matter how kind I want to be when I'm stressed and anxious and fearful, I'm too stressed to actually act in kindness toward others.