I’ve been thinking a lot about kindness recently. Strange that a trait that is valued so highly is so often under-rated or ignored.
We never want to be defined as ‘kind’. Talented, wild, charismatic, funny, sexy, passionate – all those words that come up on endless Buzzfeed and Facebook ‘Which Game of Thrones/Disney/insertanythinghere personality are you?’ quizzes are what we want to hear about ourselves. Imagine if you procrastinated for ten minutes over (another) one of those life-sucks and it just came back simply as ‘You are kind.’ We’d all slump in our chairs, let the self-loathing take over and wish we were more exciting, talented, wild etc blah, blah.
But kindness, oh it is the best of things. We should all strive to be kinder. Imagine if we lived in a world where we were all kind to each other? If we understood that we each believe different things – whatever it takes to get us through this mad, short ride of life? If every time we watched someone fuck up we just thought, ‘Oh man, they’re going to hate themselves for that later,’ and then let them know it was just a brief moment in time and no one’s going to judge them for it forever, and we’ve ALL been there.
At Loncon, a friend told me how he’d given away two expensive theatre tickets to strangers queueing for returns. When they asked if they could give him any money for them, he said ‘No, just do something nice for a stranger tomorrow.’ It actually made me a bit weepy. (Note: I’m a woman in her forties – lots of things make me weepy) It shouldn’t have made me feel that way – it shouldn’t have seemed such a delicate, beautiful thing. The world should be filled with people doing things like that for each other. One act of kindness. Once a day. It shouldn’t be so hard.
Maybe we are all just too exposed to each other these days. There’s too many of us on this tiny piece of rock hurtling through space and we insist on being connected all the time. There’s no time to reflect or think before we attack each other, or ignore each other, or laugh at something stupid someone else has done, or point out their faults. I sure as shit don’t see a lot of kindness on the news, or on Twitter – not often enough anyway. Perhaps it’s in our base nature as a race to be aggressive and selfish. Perhaps those traits are stronger and in these difficult times they rise more quickly to the surface than the things that make the best of being human. Who knows? Yes, we still love, but love is generally a selfish emotion. It so often requires being loved in return. Kindness – well, that is the purest of traits. Ethereal. Lovely rather than love.
I had a lot of laughs this weekend at Loncon. So much fun with friends new and old. So much laughter. But the things that stuck with me the most were that conversation about the theatre tickets, and another drunken one where an editor and I (both drinking wine out of Martini glasses – we should have been listening to Jazz), talked about happiness and he said some kind things about me that made me feel so much better about myself.
I’m going to aspire to be kinder. I’m going to lay off digging at people who have religion just because I don’t. (Note: Westboro Baptist Church doesn’t count). I’m going to take time out from my ME ME ME existence to look at friends’ faces closely to see if they’re happy or unhappy. I’m going to aim for one kind thing a day as I battle my aggressive and selfish nature.
Because kind people? They rock. They really do. And we can all be kind people. We can all ROCK.
“This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.” Dalai Lama
August 20th, 2014 at 10:57 am
I have been studying Buddhism and it’s a principal tenet. I used to be adversarial and quick to take offence or wade into an argument.
It was making me deeply unhappy.
I practice compassion. Unsentimental but practical compassion makes me feel better and it’s helpful with observations and discipline in terms of the writing. We all have wounds and conflicts, tge thing is to acknowledge that and still show compassion. We all suffer and we can work to acknowledge that with each other.
August 20th, 2014 at 12:49 pm
I love this. Kindness is underrated. It is something that we can all do. One small kindness a day is not too much to ask of anyone. Even if it’s just a smile at a stranger.
August 20th, 2014 at 12:54 pm
I like that. I like that a lot.
August 20th, 2014 at 1:24 pm
Brava! Well said. I struggle with this and, all to often I fail, but I try to be kind, because I find that I need kindness in my life more and more with every year that passes.
August 20th, 2014 at 4:12 pm
One of the first things you did when I met you was to send me a bunch of your books, free of charge, at your own expense. My first thought of who you were has always been – a kind lady. All the crazy and talented comes after that. I am so glad you wrote this post so that I don’t have to worry about you being insulted that I think of you primarily as a kind person 🙂
August 20th, 2014 at 11:52 pm
Sarah, thank you for your heartfelt words here. I smiled when I read your description about kindness not being rated too highly as a personal trait. Guess we want something more grandiose. However, you made a great case for kindness being as necessary as the air we breathe, so I’m sure the ranking will move higher for kindness under “desired personality traits” for anyone who has the good fortune to read your post. I agree with you wholeheartedly. As a teacher (18 years in the classroom), a business partner (35 years managing people) and a wife (36 years), I strive to give and receive kindness, respect, and tolerance (I think they are sibling virtues.) I join you in wanting to live in a “pay it forward” world.
August 21st, 2014 at 12:05 am
Thanks for your heartfelt post, Sarah. I smiled when I read your description about kindness being a “blah” character trait. Yet you made your case so clearly that it ranks as necessary as the air we breathe. I want to live in your “pay it forward” world.