Kindness is Not an Option

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BlossomWriter Value #3: We believe in treating everyone with kindness, regardless of whether or not they are kind in return. 

I wish I could tell you there was some magic formula for kindness. That if you just do fill in the blank, kindness will come naturally and you’ll always be kind. It’s just not that easy.

Kindness is a choice, and not always an easy choice.

What does help me, though, is remembering that kindness is the better choice. It is the choice that doesn’t perpetuate unkindness. It is the embodiment of “two wrongs don’t make a right.”

If someone visits this blog, for example, and leaves a nasty comment about one of the posts I’ve written, telling me I’m stupid and my ideas are ludicrous, does it help anyone for me to reply and tell them they are equally stupid? Does it do any good for me to be unkind to them in any way? Does it set an example for how I would like to be treated? No, I don’t think it does.

If I am unkind in return, it’s only going to perpetuate the cycle of unkindness, giving them more fuel to be unkind to me.

However, I want to be clear that this is not about not speaking the truth. We should call out both the good and the bad in the world when and where we see it, and we definitely should be vigilant in protecting our personal boundaries. Yet, we should seek to do so with kindness and respect.

Using the previous example, if someone visits this blog and disagrees vehemently with something I’ve said, they are more than welcome to say so, respectfully. As I’ve said before, I welcome civil disagreement, but what I do not welcome is calling the very being of someone else disagreeable. So, if they continually visit the blog only to attack me personally, that’s a different story. I have every right to stand up for myself. Firmness and kindness are not mutually exclusive.

It’s important to remember that the ideas a person holds or the action a person takes are not the person themselves, which is a very difficult concept to grasp given our modern language. For example, we often will make statements like, “she’s a democrat” or “he’s a thief,” when what we really mean is “she holds a democratic ideology” or “he stole his neighbor’s bike.”

She is “Kathy” and he is “Jim,” and they are both human beings.

They are not merely the sum of labels and categories; they are the sum of the same physical particles that make you, you and me, me.

And remembering this is instrumental in our kindness efforts. When we can acknowledge that underneath someone’s unkindness are skin and bones that feel pain and know suffering, just as we do, we can begin to find common ground. We can move towards empathy because, as they say, “hurt people hurt people.”

We all experience pain and suffering, and it is often this pain and suffering that makes us react with unkindness towards others. But, if we are going to break the cycle, we have to acknowledge that no amount of bringing pain or suffering onto other people is going to rid us of our own pain and suffering.

When you get punched in the face, punching back does not take away the sting or the resulting bruise. The only things that are going to make the physical pain go away are ice and time (and maybe some ibuprofen), and the only thing that will make the emotional pain go away is processing.

Pain and suffering are teachers. The question is: are we listening?

When we take time to process our own pain and suffering and the pain and suffering of others, what we most often find is a deeper problem, a problem that will not be solved by unkindness or violence or hatred or tyranny.

What we most often find, in the midst of pain and suffering, is a problem that will only be solved with kindness.

So, if you are trying to make the choice to be more kind, I encourage you to stop and process before you speak or act. Ask yourself what it is about the other person’s ideas or actions that is truly causing you pain. Is something they said making you feel bad about yourself? Are their actions bringing up a painful experience from your past?

Sometimes processing can cause more pain, at first, so be kind to yourself as you process. Being kind and gentle with ourselves is the first step towards being kind and gentle with others.

Then, once you’ve processed your own pain, ask yourself what might be causing the other person to act with unkindness. And while you may never know the real answer, the speculation will help ease you towards empathy. Could it be they’ve had a bad day, or week, or even a bad year? Could it be they’ve just never been shown a better way?

Could you be the one to show them?

This is part three of a five part blog series on BlossomWriter’s Values. If you’d like to receive an email notification when each of the remaining two parts become available, please sign-up for our email list here

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