These days, people prioritize a lot of things. Truth. Honesty. Maximizing share holder wealth. But there is something that seems undervalued — often described as a tool of the weak by those who are so inclined. But they’re wrong.
Today, I’m talking about the importance of kindness.
At the titular panel at WorldCon2019, Corinne Duyvis, Geoff Ryman, Claire Light, and Vanessa Rose Phin shared their thoughts about the true importance of kindness.
What is Kindness?
Kindness is the feeling of compassion channeled into action. But what is kind for one person, can be cruel for another, because we don’t all have the same wants or desires. When torn between the needs of multiple people and groups, the kindest thing to do is to balance the different wants and needs.
Kindness is a way of being — and death is the limit. It can be stepping up when someone else steps out of line to hurt someone. It can be discouraging unkindness and penalizing it.
Kindness is also said to be the ‘Culture of Hufflepuff’ (me? I’m a proud Hufflepuff). In JK Rowling’s magic school from the Harry Potter books, the students are split into four houses: the ambitious, insular Slytherin, the bookworm-ish Ravenclaws, the brave, heroic Gryffindor, and the friendly, loyal Hufflepuffs. Hufflepuffs do their best to be kind and not to judge others.
Is Kindness A Weakness?
Some see kindness as a luxury.
But, even in math, the purest of sciences, we find it can be the right solution. In game theory? Those who start off with a kindness, end up exchanging tit-for-tat, and find themselves winners. Those who are all out for themselves, find no one on their side.
Kindness opens you up to risk. To rejection.
To be kind is the bravest act of all.
Manners Versus Kindness
Politeness is what is expected of people. So-called “PC” terms are just requiring people to treat minority groups with the same level of manners that they’ve traditionally been expected to perform toward the majority group, or the groups in power.
But, as anyone in the South can tell you, politeness and manners can be weaponized — used to show someone they are lesser and/or don’t fit in. Think about the ubiquitous “bless your little heart” and all the judgmental condescension inherent within those 4 little words.
With manners, in most polite societies, you can demand tolerance. But tolerating something is inherently judgmental. Kindness is embracing people of all kinds.
In many cultures, one cannot demand a kindness. “Kindness” that is expected is an obligation or a type of manners. Kindness is a gift that must be freely offered.
Comfort Versus Kindness
The core of both is empathy. I’m sure all my readers out there will be encouraged by the recent studies saying that readers of fiction score higher on empathy tests.
Just because you disagree with someone doesn’t mean you need to attack someone. If you see they’re suffering, even when they’re in the wrong, you can get a lot of mileage out of recognizing their pain, but helping them understand the opposing viewpoint.
A comfort for someone is — a comfort zone, or a safe place. Somewhere they can relax and let their guard down.
Comforting someone — is an act to help someone (often, through an act of kindness), when they cannot be somewhere that is safe. When you can’t keep the stressors away.
Fairness Versus Kindness
What is fair or good is not always kind. Taxes paying to feed millions, to pave roads, to fund hospitals is a good thing. But, it’s not a kindness to those who have to pay up the money, and it’s not a kindness from those who pay when the payment is institutionalized.
People often treat accessibility for disabled individuals as a kindness that should be thanked — an act deserving of gratitude. This attitude is ablelist — when ramps grant access to everyone, while stairs are selective, why are ramps not the default? When someone has a legitimate need, versus a mere desire, providing it should be seen more as an act of fairness or even an obligation, rather than as a kindness.
Trigger warnings or content notes are often derided as coddling people. Why? Movies have had them for decades. Letting people decide what they’re up for or not is just allowing them to make informed decisions. Using them can be an act of kindness if freely given. If begrudgingly given, because the site the media is on requires it, then it’s not a kindness, just a fair expectation.
And kindness isn’t coddling. Often, correcting someone’s mistake before it gets too big IS a kindness. As a writer, feedback that requires tons of work is a bigger kindness than encouraging publication before the manuscript is ready.
Kindness To Oneself
Society can be cruel. People who take care of themselves are often seen as prideful or arrogant. They’re told they’re self centered.
In many societies, women especially are expected to self-sacrifice for their families, while men are supposed to throw themselves into their work, to earn their value.
Meanwhile, people who don’t take care of themselves for whatever reasons are seen as lazy and just plain bad people. Unworthy of help or support or love.
There are many ways you can be kind to yourself.
- Eating well — both nutritiously and treats in healthy measures
- Getting enough sleep
- Taking care of your body (exercise, medication, etc)
- Being honest with yourself – and your own limits
- Nurturing healthy relationships and healing/ridding yourself of unhealthy ones
There are many ways to be good, to be just. There are multitudes of ways to be kind.
Be the kindness you wish to see in the world.