Okay, so this isn’t Saturday night, so sorry for the delay. Apparently I need to change locations in order to focus on my writing fully.
It isn’t exactly breaking news that we could all stand to be a little kinder. Maybe I’ve been working in the service industry for too long, but people who are truly kind seem to be tragically few and far between. In good conscience, I can’t even call myself truly kind, although I am trying. In so many ways, we are taught (or self-taught) to view kindness as a weakness to be overcome, instead of as a strength to be nourished. I give a lot of thought to this topic, as it’s one of the things I strive to improve in my life, and I’m curious how others perceive my ideas. Throughout this series (as with anything I post), I invite you to share your thoughts with me. I feel like it is important to discuss ways to improve ourselves and our lives.
What Kindness Isn’t
Kindness isn’t niceness. A lot of people are nice. So are a lot of houses and apartments and cars. “Nice” is such an empty word. It’s been used far too liberally, to the point where it no longer seems like an actual word with a distinct meaning. “She’s nice. He’s nice. They’re nice. Nice car. You look nice. Nice moves. Nice nice nice nice nice.” It basically boils down to politeness and agreeableness, and that is civility, not kindness. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be civil, but there are other elements that qualify true kindness.
Kindness also is not constant compliance. A lot of people bend over backwards in order to be “kind,” to the point where they are so depleted they can barely do anything. This is the sort of “kindness” that is commonly encouraged, especially among women and certain religious groups. It isn’t kindness, though: it’s submission. If you’re too tired from taking care of everyone else, you can’t take care of yourself; if you can’t take care of yourself, you have to rely on your support system to take care of you. In the common application, it promotes a system of codependence and reliance on subtle (or not-so-subtle) abusers, those who benefit from your lack of self-reliance. Even without malicious intent driving someone into this cycle, it is, at the very least, unkind to yourself.
So What Is Kindness?
That’s a good question, and one that I’m trying to work through myself. I should specify that I do in fact own a dictionary and could tell you what Webster has to say, but that isn’t my focus. I’m interested in living a philosophy of kindness, as a way to enrich my own life and, consequently, be available to help others in my life. So far, I’ve come up with five elements that are (or should be) incorporated into “kindness.” Namely, compassion, respect, forgiveness, generosity, and good will.
I will go into greater depth with these aspects in the days to come, but first, maybe the question should be asked…
Okay, so that might be a ridiculous question to some, but we live in a world where active kindness is actually quite rare. It seems to exist in a vacuum, behind-the-scenes, if it exists anywhere. We are surrounded by violence, by hatred, by intolerance. Our political climate is so divisive that many people won’t even speak to family members or former friends for the way they vote. People are so accustomed to fighting with each other that in many cases dialogue has become impossible. Some people feel it’s their right or duty to shame others for a way of being that is different. And some people feel so isolated and so pressured and so afraid, that they truly believe there is no place for them in this world.
We cannot, as individuals, take on all of the ills of the world, but neither should we give up on ourselves or each other and buy into the complacency, the apathy, the madness. I was almost there for a long time. I had suffered a succession of physical and psychological traumas between my childhood and late adolescence, things that still give me nightmares to this day. But I still count myself as lucky, because I met several people who taught me that I wasn’t damaged goods, that I still have a lot to offer, and that healing is possible. I’m not the same as I was before. I will never be the same. I do think, however, that I’m a better person for meeting these truly kind individuals at such a vulnerable time in my life. I do believe that they all saved my life. All I want is to live that sort of kindness, not for any grandiose purpose, but to truly know that I don’t take those people for granted.