Sure, we all know that kindness is important for helping us get along with others, but I think many of us believe that it exists to serve the same function as good manners. That is, it makes life nicer, but when things get rough it can be tossed aside for more expedient forms of engagement. Kindness is nice, and nice people deserve it. But people who are not nice? Well, fuck those guys, amiright?!
But I don't think kindness is about doing people favors, or giving a pass to people who 'don't deserve it' in the name of social grace. I think kindness is something deeper and more profound. At its core, kindness is an understanding of human nature, and the ability to recognize the commonalities that motivate and empower us all. It's empathy in action. And it is most powerful, and most effective when it is offered to people who are not being actively kind to us.
Kindness doesn't look like kissing someone's ass after they've told us that they hate us. It isn't passive. It's not sunshine and puppies and cotton candy - although, those things can certainly be part of our expressions of kindness if we choose.
Instead, kindness is the persistent refusal to diminish anyone's humanity - especially our own. It's the deep, very human knowledge that we are all working with limitations, managing emotional responses that threaten to undo us at every moment of the day, and struggling to understand the complicated, chaotic and often frightening world we're in.
Kindness is active resistance to hate. It's resistance to the cognitive shortcuts that allow us to make lazy and cruel generalizations. It's a conscious refusal to give in to our own human tendency to treat some people better than others depending on how closely we identify with them.
Kindness is water on a burning match head. It dissolves heat and anger and hostility. It is desperately needed in this world, and not just for the people who think like us.
Kindness is strength.
Kindness is about doing things that demonstrate in very real, practical ways that we acknowledge one another as fully human. Whether it's your life partner who you see every day, or the guy in line in front of you at Starbucks you may never see again - there are opportunities to practice kindness constantly in every moment, every aspect of our lives.
And it's truly the simplest, fastest and most affordable way to make the world a better place.