The Importance of Kindness

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.

Introduction to Hopepunk

In a grimdark world, filled with truth, lies, and politics many of us have been longing for a literary escape that can give us some hope. For this generation, Hopepunk is our solution.

At WorldCon 77 Dublin, Jo Walton, Lettie Prell, and the creator of the term, herself, Alexandra Rowland, on a panel moderated by the marvelous Sam Hawke discussed the true meaning of Hopepunk.

What Is Hopepunk?

After the term hit NPR and Vox, it started to shift from what was originally intended to something lighter and shinier.

Luckily for all of us, we had the coiner of the term there to set the record straight, aided by the creator of the SFWA bulletin, formally acknowledging the genre. (SFWA stands for Science fiction Writers of America)

  1. It’s the counter to grimdark
  2. Stories to support people
  3. The emphasis should be on the punk, with a core strength of hope
    • Punk in its need to “fight the man”
    • Hope in its goal that “we deserve a better world”
  4. It’s contemporary fantasy or near-future
  5. It’s characters don’t give up — they stand up, resist, and fight back
  6. It’s characters are ordinary people who care
  7. The characters don’t have to win, but they do have to make a difference, and offer hope for a better future.

Some might wonder why we need a term for this. Why we even need subgenres at all.

3 Reasons Why We Need Subgenres

  1. Naming something help defines it and the beliefs or story expectations that go with it
  2. Naming a genre lets people find other stories like it
  3. Plus. Marketing.

Writers That Invoke Hopepunk Philosophies

  1. Ruthanne Emyrs
  2. Marissa K. Lingen
  3. Ada Palmer
  4. Alexandra Rowland
  5. Lettie Prell (“Crossing LaSalle”)
  6. David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas) – note: he writes plenty that isn’t hopepunk
  7. NK Jemisin (Broken Earth trilogy)
  8. Usman T. Malik (“The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn”)
  9. William Alexander (“The House on the Moon”)
  10. Kim Stanley Robinson (40 Signs of Rain, New York 2140)
  11. Ursula Le Guin (“The Ones That Walk Away From Omelas”)

Why Hopepunk Now?

Hopepunk is a reaction to the current political, cultural, and physical environment. During times of prosperity and progress, grimdark reminds us to fight complacency. During times of stagnation and fear, Hopepunk is reminding us that we’re not powerless.

We were reminded of that quote:

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

G.K. Chesterton

In Western culture, so often we consider literature more serious, more worthy when it is cynical, ironic, and distant.

Western culture finds the upbeat, shiny stories found in 1950’s sci-fi to be trite and naive. Then, extends that opinion to anything that isn’t full of cynicism. Which leads to interesting circumstances, like award winning novels failing to warrant academic acclaim.

We need to remember that human acts of kindness are common and real and normal.

Do you think Hopepunk is right for you? Ordinary people fighting back, and making a difference — even if they can’t win the day?

Do you know any stories you think would be a good fit for this genre?

P.S. After this post went up, I got a few questions on Hopepunk’s relationship to Solarpunk. Here’s what I came up with as the answer to:

What’s the difference between Hopepunk and Solarpunk?

I’m less familiar with Solarpunk, but according to google:

“Solarpunk is a genre of Speculative Fiction that focuses on craftsmanship, community, and technology powered by renewable energy, wrapped up in a coating of Art Nouveau blended with African and Asian aesthetics.”

So. I’m gonna say the difference lies in the emphasis of ‘punk’ — ie “Fighting against the man”, with less of a focus on renewable energy, and a less defined aesthetic.

They are clearly related genres and there could easily be overlap between the two.