Continuing choleric Facebook posts in my feed are countered by requests for kindness and respect. I also am exhorted on most blogs written by women to "be kind", over and over. But when I think of real persons, not the pseudonym-protected snipers online, I see much kindness, or at least civility, in everyday life.
So why, I wonder, am I so often importuned to be kind? Perhaps because its opposite, meanness, is disruptive, painful, and when escalated, violent.
Kindness is a fragrant bough that sweeps away the pebbles on the path of life. Alain de Botton's site The School of Life calls kindness an art, and provides a primer, "Mastering the Art of Kindness".
I am glad to find this free book, because I need help these days, what with those Facebook feuds and my suspicion that when some of those parties tell those who see it differently to "be kind" , they may be trying to stifle protest, to duck the hard and complicated questions. "You're not nice!" is calling someone a "nasty woman" with sugar on top.
Somewhere, I realize, is a balance point as tenuously glued together as President Trump's hair. (Yes, I am being mean. Sometimes snark, which is diet-lite meanness, is fun.)
What's missing in these pleas for kindness is an examination of why why we continually request caring and consideration. We need it. Kindness helps us muster on, because it contributes to our safety and security.
Whether one adopts Maslow's hierarchy of needs—which places physical and emotional safety just after the physiological needs like air, water, and food—or other models, humans can govern themselves better when they are not in a continual fight or flight mode.
We appreciate meetings were differences are discussed without ad hominum attacks, we're grateful when a friend readily forgives us for forgetting a date, we enjoy even the passing generosity of a held door. Kindness serves life.
My friend Marianne is an intelligent, compassionate, warm woman. Seven years ago, she worked for a practiced bully who systematically undermined her work, despite her efforts to appease, problem-solve, and even confront his tactics. Because of her beliefs and her nature, she never fought fire with fire. Eventually he succeeded in having her fired; she spent from 2009 until last year struggling to get back on her feet.
During that time, Marianne lost her life savings and was often depressed, but received many kind acts. One of her friends moved her into her empty basement apartment in her home. Other friends provided low-key kindnesses: including her in social events that cost nothing, taking her out occasionally, giving her good clothes so she could go on interviews, and just keeping an eye on her. Even her bank was kind, helping her hang on to a family property that provided a tiny income from its occasional rental.
It's easy to be kind to a person like Marianne, and much harder to be kind to someone acting like a jerk, including ourselves. Sometimes the best we manage is a clenched civility.
In me, the milk of human kindness dilutes down to skim on a bad day. I prize the virtue, and wish to be thoughtful, generous, tolerant. Lately despair about the state of the world and our vulnerability can erode my stores. Then I hoover down a slab of endangered fish (when Le Duc is not around) and snap at someone I love. (I am hardly ever mean to strangers, but being kind to some persons whom I know well has taken deep effort, and I've often fallen short.)
When I attend the services of various faith communities, the promotion of everyday kindness is a universal topic—but, presently on leave from such affiliation, I'm hoping the School of Life provides guidance.
The beginning of the treatise quotes findings from a survey attributed to DoubleTree by Hilton, and I wondered, What is a hotel chain doing exploring kindness? But there is money to be made in delivering a nice plump bed, a kindness that earns customers' loyalty. A good hotel or restaurant (not necessarily a luxury one) cossets you; hospitality is really institutionalized kindness.
There's more to say, but what about you, friend? Is kindness important to you? How do you top up your capacity?