If you ever perform a good deed in public and ABC News correspondent Adrienne Bankert is nearby, don’t be surprised if she approaches you to praise your act of kindness. She calls it her mission in life to “make kindness famous.” That’s also the inspiration behind her new book “Your Hidden Superpower: The Kindness That Makes You Unbeatable at Work and Connects You With Anyone.”
In the book, Adrienne recalls being on the street in New York City one day and seeing an African American man with his arm around an elderly white gentleman, supporting him as they walked to a waiting cab. A bystander told Adrienne that after the older man had fallen down, the other man saw what happened and helped him up, making sure he was okay. After the taxi drove the older man away, Adrienne approached his helper to thank him for “doing the right thing.” He accepted the compliment humbly, believing he just did what anyone would have done.
During a “Christopher Closeup” interview (podcast below), I asked Adrienne why she thanks strangers for doing a good deed. She explained, “When I’m walking by people, I see them as part of this extended human family. And when I see them do a kind act, it’s so refreshing and hopeful…There are so many good people in this world, but they’re never going to get on TV. They’re never going to be on a stage doing this kind thing. It’s done in secret…And I tell people who are doing kind things, thank you for doing that. I want them to know that what they’re doing works and that other people do notice them…It’s just that a lot of times we don’t go up and say so. But what if we did? What if we encouraged kind people? Then they become kindness heroes, and they would be more prone to continue that good work that we need more of us to do.”
Adrienne has been living an intentionally kind life for many years now, after receiving the advice to do so from a mentor. And that choice has made all the difference. She received one of her breaks in the broadcasting business not just because of her talent, but due to her reputation for being a kind person.
“I watch people who are really kind or conscientious,” Adrienne said, “and they seem to provide that calm that helps all the parts work better together. And I thought, what if we all were intentionally kind every time we showed up? That when we get to work, it’s not just about doing the job, but it’s for a greater purpose, it’s for connection. And then ideally people feel better when working with you.”
Kindness isn’t a tactic for Adrienne, though. Instead, she believes it is a natural part of our DNA that we need to access more. “Life can be very unkind,” she elaborated. “Disappointments can affect us and crush us…Kindness is who we are, if nothing bad had happened in a sense…I realized that if we would embrace kindness as our identity, then our knee-jerk response in life would be a picture of that true identity. So if somebody is having a moment and comes at us in a certain way that is antagonistic or angry or frustrated, we would be less quick to fire back or retaliate or get revenge. We would actually keep the peace. And I think that the world right now is asking for people, demanding really, for people to be kind under pressure. And the world is so pressurized right now. So how do we do this without making it a to-do list? We become kind. Instead of ‘doing’ kindness, we literally ‘are’ kind.”
Adrienne points to “Good Morning America” stage manager (and former director of the old “Christopher Closeup” TV show) Eddie Luisi as an example. She calls him “a firebrand of sweet enthusiasm” and notes he is always friendly and welcoming. One morning, though, she thought he seemed a little more down than usual.
“I didn’t see that peppiness that I usually see,” she recalled, because “he was always giving people so much good energy and being a light. And I said, ‘Hey, how are you doing? Good morning!’ – [making an] effort to remind him that I know that sometimes it’s hard…And he started singing, ‘Amazing Adrienne, how sweet the sound,’ to the tune of Amazing Grace. But he put my name in there and that made me feel so good…Even with the long hours and the early mornings, he would still take the time to be kind. And that’s what we need.”
Kindness doesn’t just make people feel good; it builds connection and community. That can be especially important for people who feel shy or lonely.
Adrienne said, “Every person on the planet…needs to feel like they belong somewhere. And when you’re kind, you could open up a door to a friendship that you didn’t even know was there, and that can help you feel like you found your place…I’ll make friends with people on planes or on the street. I’ll hand them my business card. I’ll exchange Instagram handles with them so we can start a connection because I truly believe that when we’re brought into certain spaces, they’re one in a million opportunities. What are the chances that I meet this person at the deli or at work or on a plane or walking my dog? Let’s not think light of that. Maybe, just maybe, this was meant to be.”
Gratitude is another key part in accessing kindness as your superpower. Adrienne recalled a stressful time in her life when her friend told to just “take a breath” to calm down. At first, she thought the suggestion was ridiculous. But she decided to follow the advice anyway. After taking three deep breaths, she realized, “Oh my goodness, if I’m not grateful for this breath, then how can I be grateful for the things I get to do while I’m still breathing?”
That revelation allowed Adrienne to connect gratitude to kindness. If we can be kind in the little things – calling a friend or a customer not because you want anything from them, but to see how they’re doing or Venmo them coffee – “that sign of appreciation allows you to be more conscious and intentional when it comes to the bigger things in life.”
There is a big difference, however, between being nice and being kind. Adrienne explained, “Being nice is a hello in the hallway, it’s polite…It’s not a bad thing, but we need to graduate to kindness, because kindness takes into account the whole person and is very aware. When you are noticing somebody on a Zoom call, it would be nice to say hello. It would be kind to say, ‘Hey, I noticed you looked a little down on the zoom call.’ After the call is over, text them, email them and say, is there anything I can do for you? That’s kind. You go a step beyond nice. And then you enter space where you can truly connect with someone.”
One point that needs to be emphasized was reflected in a comment that Robert Herjavec from “Shark Tank” once told a person pitching him a product: “Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness.”
Kindness can be perceived as weakness by some, but Adrienne calls that “one of the biggest lies in our culture. I have people tell me that they’ve been told they’re too nice or too kind for the business that they’re in. I think that part of the reason why is because we confuse nice and kind. I do think you can be too nice. And I talk about that in the book. When you’re too nice, you’re concerned about people pleasing. You’re trying to avoid conflict, but that doesn’t work because eventually some things have to be confronted. When you are kind, you are more aware of each person.
“Don’t think that kindness is always smiling and telling you how wonderful you are,” Adrienne continued. “It varies, and kindness sometimes doesn’t say a word. And sometimes kindness is honest. One part of the story I tell is about mentoring. Mentors aren’t always nice. They’re going to tell you something you don’t want to hear. And it’s up to us to be coachable and teachable, but they might be more direct than we like. I’ve had that happen to me many times. They might say it in a way that gets under my skin, but I have to decide, what am I going to do with that? Am I going to grow from this moment or am I going to get offended? And so for me, it’s kind for somebody to care enough to tell you the truth.”
For Adrienne, kindness also serves as a light that she seeks out when facing times of darkness. She concluded, “A big part of kindness is also generosity. When I have been in my darkest moments of personal crisis…I actually said, ‘I don’t know what to do for me, but I know that I’ve been equipped by the mentors, the teachers, the coaches, the parents, different loved ones who’ve invested in me that I have somebody’s answer.’ So rather than get stifled by my own stuff, I’m going to look out there and seek out people that I can invest in and give to. And I tell people all the time – when you decide to make someone else’s problem yours and help solve their need, it provides a life preserver or a rescue for you…It ties you to the mast of your ship so it prevents you from going overboard. So the darkness is going to happen. It’s just part of life. But lighting your candle actually includes lighting someone else’s.”
(To listen to my full interview with Adrienne Bankert, click on the podcast link):