Kindness does not always come in the guise we expect
Kindness is something many of us aspire to and everyone appreciates, however many people have a naive idea of what kindness is. So what is kindness? We recognise certain manifestations of kindness and not others, especially when we’re on the receiving end of it.
What is kindness?
Basically, it’s helping others, giving up our time in order to do things for them, things that we think will help them.
We recognise kindness when it comes in these forms
- Being gentle
- Saying nice things about someone
- Smiling and enquiring after one’s health and well-being
- Being generous in time and/or money
- Being polite
- Being nice
Long term kindness may look very different
However, kindness doesn’t always look like this; for example, when a child runs onto the road, is it kinder to say gently, darling please don’t run on the road, or to yell, get off the road? For the benefit of the child the latter is surely preferable because they will not only be more inclined to hear you and get off the road quickly, but also to remember in future that it is bad to play on, or run onto, the road. If you act according to a narrow view of what kindness is, that child could be dead from the car that comes around the corner before you can convince them to get off the road. If you are generally gentle with your child, your yelling will be much more effective than if you always yell. Always yelling at them is not kindness.
Consider now, the drug addict that you’ve tried everything with, all the usual things, now you are frustrated because they have relapsed again despite all your encouragement and the usual forms of kindness. You could keep that frustration from them and they will never know how much you care, if you give it to them straight, the sheer force of your concern may jolt them from their self-absorption. Don’t just blurt out your anger though, or you’ll be, at the least, unskillful and, at the worst, say things you may regret. Instead, take a deep breath, know what you’d doing and do it with clarity. You’re not being gentle, not saying nice things, but, if you do it out of love, then you are being kind in the long term.
What you think is unkind may be kindness in disguise
Feedback is an area where kindness is often misunderstood. Whether it is a report you have prepared for work, an artwork of some kind or some kind of behavioural feedback, it is easy to mistake something given with the aim of helping you with unkindness. Even constructive criticism may not appear that way to you because it invariably hooks your ego, and ego leaps to its own defence. It will give reasons why the criticism is untrue and will likely attack the reviewer’s qualifications, all to prove that you are already perfect. That’s what ego does – defend itself. Unfortunately, this reaction stops you from benefitting from the feedback. The alternative is to see feedback is an opportunity to make your work (whatever it is) better – and it can always be better. Consider that the reviewer is trying to help you. Even if it doesn’t appear that way, this attitude will save you a lot of pain and allow you to get the most out of the feedback.
All criticism is someone’s opinion, of course, and opinions can be flawed, but when someone gives you feedback that is detailed and clearly thought out, even if what they say is not to your liking, they have given their time for you. It’s also not easy to tell the truth; it’s much easier to sugar coat things, or say nothing. People only tell the truth when they really care, but they risk the recipient of the unwanted truth turning on them, so speaking up takes courage. As the person receiving the criticism, it’s good to honour that. Why do they risk your wrath? Possibly because they care enough about you to help you improve your work. That is kindness. (They may also not give a damn, but you’ll see the difference in the way the feedback is given.)
Since long-term kindness can take forms that we don’t immediately recognise as kind, whether something is kind, or not, can only be judged in the motivation of the giver, not in the form it takes.
Have you an experience of seeing something as unkind and then realising at a later date that it was, in fact a kindness?