There’s a church around the corner from my house. It’s one of those churches that often displays little messages on the outside notice board. They change it up every week or so, just in time for the Sunday service, it seems. There’s a traffic light at the corner, so I always have a moment before the light turns green to fully read what the board says. I see it over and over again throughout the week. Sometimes I don’t pay much attention to it, but other times the message sort of sticks with me.

Today’s message was “Kind words make kind echoes.”

Out here in cyberspace we often talk about echo, but it’s not always in the context of kindness. The echo chamber out here in the social media world has a very negative connotation. Reference to the echo chamber often implies that all us social media blogging types spend our days and nights (because, you know, we don’t actually have REAL jobs), mulling over the same 3 or 4 topics ad nauseum then hauling our butts off to conferences so we can truly sit around and yammer on about the same inane sentiments over and over.

I’m not here to deny that the echo chamber exists. It’s certainly alive and well. I’ve blogged about the social media “bubble” before. I am as guilty as anyone of flapping around in the fishbowl. But that message I saw on the church sign today, and some recent experiences I’ve had have got me thinking hat there’s another side to this whole echo thing. That in fact, the echo chamber is actually being used for good, too.

I’ve had a couple of experiences in the past several days where I’ve been on the receiving end of some very kind words, both publicly and privately. Sure, we’ve all had nice things said to us or about us at one time or another. But being nice and being kind, to me, are two different things. Nice is surface. It’s consideration of another, in the moment. It’s a quick gesture, like holding a door open. Kindness has other more lasting qualities.

Kindness is easy. You know how sometimes, you HAVE to be nice? Like how you HAVE to be nice to your best friend’s new boyfriend, even though you think he’s a creep? Or how you HAVE to be nice to the customer in your checkout line, even though she won’t stop complaining about how slow the service is? Being nice is hard sometimes, but kindness is always easy. It comes from the heart. You are kind to someone because you feel a need to show that person you’re listening, that you care, and that they have value. You’re kind because you WANT to be, not because you HAVE to be.

Kindness is genuine. How easy is it for you to tell if someone’s being fake? When the words they are saying or the things they are doing, nice as they might seem, are just to get on your good side so they can get something from you? My bet is you can probably see that type of person coming a mile away. I know I can. When someone’s playing the suck up game, there’s always something sitting there in the background that isn’t quite right. That person will leave their compliments dangling – and you’re left waiting for the other shoe to drop. Authentic kindness is unquestionably sincere. When you are genuinely kind, you seek nothing in return. Not even a thank you. You are taking the pleasure in raising someone else up, for no other reason than that you want to. The payoff is not in reciprocation. It’s in the act of kindness itself.

Kindness echoes. The final indicator of kindness is what I’ve just realized today – that kindness really does have an echo. If someone is publicly kind, it’s easy to see the echo. One positive gesture echoes good feelings not only towards the recipient of the kindness, but towards the giver as well. One act of kindness can quickly run rampant. Remember the Free Hugs guy? Or just take a look at the list of Random Acts of Kindness references in Wikipedia. Even a private kind act will bring forth positive feelings that resonate. Saying or doing one kind thing for someone can have a lasting impact…whether it’s just brightening another’s day by telling them you appreciate them, or by helping them out and asking nothing in return. You can tell true kindness by the mark it leaves, and by the lasting effect of the echo it makes.

So…which echo chamber are you going to be part of?