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A Culture Of Kindness

A Culture Of Kindness

My Dad worked in the building trade for about 50 years. He worked full time right up until he was 70 years old. 

A few years later, he helped us to renovate an old cottage. He and I worked side-by-side for months. I felt like his apprentice because my entire DIY experience prior to this had amounted to wiring a plug and changing a lightbulb.

It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life because I got to be with Dad every day and because I learned skills that I’ll have for life, like building and joinery.

One day, he told me a story of something that had happened at work just a few years before he retired. 

Dad worked as what’s known as a concrete finisher. One of the jobs he did was lay and level the floors of large shopping centres and supermarkets.

Once, when the company was working on building a new supermarket, an accident occurred outside. A large underground water pipe got ruptured while they worked on the water supply to the new building. It was spewing out water all over the place and everyone was panicking because it was clear that the water would soon spill out onto the road and disrupt town centre traffic. That would be a disaster.

Dad heard all the commotion. He ran over and, with some quick thinking, he climbed down into the hole and used a crowbar to push against the pipe and partially stem the flow. But water was still spewing out, albeit a little less furiously.

He glanced across to the opening into the new supermarket where he’d just been. He had a batch of concrete already made up for the new floor. But rather than use it for its intended purpose, he diverted it on top of the ruptured pipe instead. The concrete was thick and it quickly sealed the rupture. 

The spewing stopped. Everyone was relieved. Job done!

Afterwards, Dad went back to work, still dripping wet, and finished his shift. 

The following day, the CEO of the company turned up at the site. He asked where he could find my dad. He introduced himself to Dad and said he wanted to personally say thank you for what he did. He’d come all the way from head office, about 50 km away to see Dad.

His actions had saved the company a lot of money. And a lot of hassle. 

Dad shrugged it off as nothing, really. But the CEO assured him that it was a very big deal. It had taken courage and quick thinking. He was truly grateful.

He asked if he could have his photo taken with Dad and explained that it would appear in the next company newsletter, if that was OK with Dad.

They spent some time chatting after that. He asked Dad about his job, what he did and how long he had been with the company. How long had he been married; how many children does he have and what do we all do for a living. 

Dad told him that my Mum and three sisters had all worked for the NHS and then followed up with,

“My son is a doctor.” 

He would always say that. 

When I was around, I would usually qualify that I have a PhD and that I had worked in R&D, but that I’m not a medical doctor. But Dad was proud.

He would even tell the clinical staff during his radiotherapy and other treatments. He developed some muscle weakness a few years ago and we discovered that he had a brain tumour. At the end of a treatment session, it wasn’t uncommon for nurses to ask me which hospital I worked at. 

It usually led to me explaining that I’m not a medical doctor and that I had worked in R&D but now write books and speak about kindness, among other things. As an act of gratitude for how kind they always were to Dad, I occasionally dropped off one or two copies of my book, ‘The Five Side Effects of Kindness’ for them.

Dad passed away last year but I treasure the memories. 

That time when we spoke about his day at work, he told me it was the first time ever that he hadn’t felt like ‘just a worker.’ He had been a blue-collar worker all his life and was just expected to show up for work, do his shift, and go home again, in a constant cycle. 

While it wasn’t ever explicitly stated, there was a division between blue-collar and white-collar workers. It was implied, from the way they had always been spoken to in various companies Dad had worked for over the last 50 years, that they were somehow less than white-collar workers. Less important. Less valuable. Expendable.

To Dad, with me being so highly qualified, a former scientist and now writer of books, I think I represented our family being at the top in some ways. Perhaps that’s why he took such pride in telling people I was a doctor, even if it wasn’t the sort of doctor people thought.

Dad felt important that day when the CEO came to see him. Respected. Appreciated. Valued. Important. It touched him deeply.

He always just did was the gaffer told him to do and that was that. If you made a mistake, you got told off. If you missed a few shifts for any reason, you got laid off. That was the culture.

It was the fact that the ‘top man,’ as Dad referred to him as, came to see him in person to say thanks and tell him he did a good job that made such an impression on Dad. He felt on top of the world that day and the feeling stayed with him for a long time afterwards.

Dad was a quiet and humble man. In the ten years or so that had passed since that day, he had barely told anyone about it. He only mentioned it to me that day in passing, not to big up what he did, but to emphasise the kindness of the CEO in coming to visit him to say thanks. It only came up because we’d been talking about the next book I was writing on the subject of kindness.

It didn’t cost anything for the CEO to come to say thanks to Dad that day, yet the impact of his kindness went a long way. His actions capture what I think of as leading with kindness.

Dad’s story got me thinking that we should all strive at work to lead with kindness.

Because we’re human. 

We should make every attempt to help each other feel valued and respected, to feel that what we all do matters, to help each other feel part of it all, to feel included.

Say thank you. Be respectful of people’s needs and feelings.

Listen. Encourage. Trust.

This is how we create a culture of kindness and bring out the best in each other.

Lift others when you can. You never know how much it can mean to them.

Kindness doesn’t cost anything. A seemingly small act or a few simple encouraging words might seem small to you, but it can be huge for the other person. Exactly what they need that day because you never know what people are dealing with privately.

In this kind of culture where it naturally feels safe, friends and colleagues will more likely stretch themselves, tap into their creativity and inner resources in ways unavailable to them in more restricted or fearful cultures. It’s a route to creative and unexpected solutions.

A culture of kindness begins with each of us. You don’t need to wait on someone declaring it. Create it wherever you are. Be the culture.

Small pockets can quickly spread to generate large changes. Kindness is contagious, after all.

It begins with each of us making a commitment to let kindness guide the way we do what we do.

And then see what happens.


David R. Hamilton PhD
After completing his PhD, David worked for 4 years in the pharmaceutical industry developing drugs for cardiovascular disease and cancer. During this time he also served as an athletics coach and manager of one of the UK’s largest athletics clubs, leading them to three successive UK finals. Upon leaving the pharmaceutical industry, David co-founded the international relief charity Spirit Aid Foundation and served as a director for 2 years.

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