The Kindness Ratio

This song and post about kindness comes to us from member Stuart Stotts. The message is true and relevant every day of the year!

I’ve been familiar with the work of John Gottman for years, but I’m not deeply versed in it. I first encountered his ideas around relationships. If I can summarize very simplistically, he found that certain behaviors between couples were good predictors of the long-term health of the relationship. For example, if the ratio of kind to unkind words dipped below five to one, it spelled trouble in the long run. That was a minimum. In general, his work is worth exploring beyond my feeble attempts to explain it.

I may not be accurate in my specific understanding, but the the concept is intriguing. The damage done by one insult or sharp remark requires five kind or positive things to repair the damage or restore the balance. Whatever that number may actually be for each person, (which undoubtably varies by personality, situation, context, and time of day, as well as who knows what other factors,) the idea that feeling hurt requires repair in some amount seems true. And can we generalize about that number?

I mentioned this to Tom Pease, and he said “Only five to one? Who doesn’t do that?” Fair enough. Almost everyone I know is basically kind, especially to those we don’t know. But our interactions in families, friendships, and work situations may allow, strangely enough, more unkindness because of familiarity. I certainly know some couples that I feel uncomfortable being around because of the unkindness they show to each other, even though they are perfectly kind people elsewhere. My wife and I have always made it a priority to enhance our relationship by how we speak  to each other.

My friend Kevin McMullin, a teacher and story teller, said that when he made a point of keeping the balance of positive comments high with his students, he felt that they improved more. In the role of teacher it can be easy to say things in the name of being helpful that hurt. This isn’t about being false or glossing over mistakes or issues, but about recognizing how the way we talk affects how others are able to hear us.


Kevin teaches fiddle to children`

Ten or twenty students a week.

The more he gives them positives

The less their fingers squeak.


He wants them to play and to practice

He wants their love of music to grow

He does his best not to forget

This simple ratio.


Five to one

Five kind words to one that’s rude

Five to one

Change your attitude.


He doesn’t give cookies or stickers

He doesn’t give a toy or a star

He sees what they try to do

And he sees who they are


It’s not just the words he’s saying

It’s the tone he’s speaking in

One smart remark out of the dark

Is like a sliver in your skin…Chorus


Sometimes he’ll lose his patience

Like all of us now and again.

Other days he’ll be amazed

He’ll go from five to ten.


Some things you can’t measure

Other things you can

Numbers tell tales as well

That help us understand…Chorus


© Stuart Stotts 2013


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1 comment

  1. Love it. Sweet, simple, melodic and true. ssxo

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