I find myself struggling with the term kindness.  I understand that there is a distinct difference between being nice and being kind.  Nice has all the advantage of manners.  Anyone who has studied manners knows that it includes the great art of taking one down a peg or two in the nicest possible way.  Kindness on the other hand presumes a benevolent intent.

It is not so much that I find myself incapable of  being considerate.  Many of my skills including scheduling and delegating are dependent on being considerate of the needs and abilities of others.  It is just that I have been taught to prioritize efficiency and expedience over thoughtfulness.  My knee jerk reaction is not to be kind, it is to cut to the quick.  I tend to bruise feelings in getting to the heart of the matter.

Unfortunately I also tend to associate kindness with pandering.  Is it really a kindness to buy a smoker a pack of cigarettes when they are broke?  Is taking a hurt child to get ice cream after bandaging the boo-boo being kind?  Is it kind to let someone continue to make the same error, getting themselves deeper into trouble at work?

In terms of correcting someone kindly, I am given to understand that if they can fix it right now it is kind to bring attention to the problem.  So letting someone know they are dragging toilet paper on their shoes from the bathroom is kind.  Bringing attention to a problem that is not immediately fixable, like someone’s weight, is unkind.

But what about the you did it once and it’s done, but you might not want to do it again problem.  Is “I don’t know if you are aware that _____ is considered to be an offensive term and you might not want to use it again” a kindness or an imposition?  These are a sticky mess for me.  I don’t want to condone behaviors I don’t like, but I also don’t want to be the rules or PC police.  But the entirely efficient, “that’s not appropriate, fix it” does not win me personality points.

Still harder is trying to apply kindness to myself.  This is one of the biggest blocks for me in terms of my personal health.  I’m not supposed to “beat myself up” if I don’t get to the club or I’m too worn out from the day to finish the dishes, or I can’t carry the laundry up the stairs.  But I’m also not supposed to let myself slide into complacency because of those very same things.

When I want a chocolate brownie, really want it.  I’ve been thinking about it for days and I still want it.  No really, not a piece of chocolate or a nice treat, I want a chocolate brownie.  Is it a kindness to get the brownie?  How about going to exercise?  Is it kinder to make myself just get out the door and go or to allow that maybe taking a nap is really better for me today?

I don’t expect to reach any conclusions or come to a great insight today.  As much as your comments may help, I don’t expect anyone has a quick, easy, always applicable solution to the problem.  I even suspect that I may revisit this issue several times in future blogs.  In the meantime I suppose all I can do is test the waters and make a conscious effort.  I see what works and what doesn’t.  Maybe I’ll find a way through that “you might not want to do that again” problem.

I just hope that the people in my life are willing and able to model kindness, at least in terms of my halting and clumsy efforts to achieve it.  It really would help, on the off chance you notice, to let me know when I succeed in being kind.  In fact that sort of direct feedback would be a great kindness.

About lisaspiral

I've been writing and speaking about spirituality to small groups for years and am looking to expand my horizons. Hopefully this blog will inspire you to expand yours as well.

Posted on August 22, 2011, in Bio, kindness, spirituality and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Defining “being kind” is rather like nailing jell-o to a tree in my book. There are many interpretations and instances where “lines drawn in the sand” become fuzzy. I appreciate the “kind has something to do with benevolence” concept, but even that can be stretched awfully thin.

    Yes, being kind is a “grand gesture” in the larger sense. But in the more practical sense, it does NOT include being a door-mat….even to ones self.

    Eat the brownie. Enjoy the brownie in a manner that is almost indulgent. Be kind to your soul. But enjoy it AFTER you’ve been to the gym and earned the right to indulge.

    In my life it’s become an issue of balance and living spherically. To deny yourself those things you truly desire in order to stand on arbitrary principle is hollow and doesn’t represent balance.

    Go to the gym, work for what you want, and reward yourself for making an effort. Be reasonable in your reward….I spend 30 minutes on the machine at the gym which results in consuming 500 calories. One brownie a week isn’t going to upset the balance, and will allow my soul to feel joy once in a while. A brownie after each trip to the gym might be counter-productive.

    I would look at the same outline and apply it to life in general. Occasionally the soul needs feeding, yours and those in your life. It is “kind” to recognize and feed that hunger when appropriate.

    Think spherically…give, take; something comes in, something must go out, complete the cycle each time.

  2. I think maybe the place to start with kindness is to stop the internal stories of “who i am” and “who i should be.” That would be a great kindness to your self and loving too.

    enjoyed your struggles though, hope you do too. Maybe everything is a potential teacher but maybe your cup is too full…….? right now?

    Hard to say isn’t it?


  3. I believe that kindness not only is an action, but how the action is handled. Certainly, telling somone they are trailing TP, can be a kindness. Whispering as they walk by, kindness. Stepping on the TP as they walk by so they never know? Definitely kindness. Starting out with, “Hey, loser,,,” Not so kind. 🙂

    Personally, I’ve taken my stand with bad breath. If someone is standing close enough to me that I can smell their stinky breath, I probably know them well enough to offer them a breath mint. And make sure they take it.

    Maybe kindness means the willingness to be a little embarassed or uncomfortable to save someone else a greater embarassement.

  4. I’ve pondered this whole business of kindness, too, and decided I’m not a nice person, but can be incredibly kind.

    I’d love for you to come read my post “A Case Against Kindness.” I think we’re kindred spirits.

  5. I must admit that this post drew my attention. “Kindness” you see has been one of my favorite words for quite some time. To me however it doesn’t represnt action…although that is certainly the way the receipiant of kindness perceives it, but rather it is an interior sensitivity. For me I find that the idea of kindeness is centered in an acknowledgment of the inherient value of others and a connection to our common humanity. It involves love and compassion certainly, but those things flow naturally, they are results of an openess and sensitivty to others. Generousity, humilty and care, rather than good manners or politeness are the hallmarks of kindness. I think that the Buddhists get close to describing the internal proccess of kindness with the saying “right thoughts, right words, right actions”. This isn’t a bullet point list of characteristics mind you but rather an aknowledgement of how kindnes flows…it derives first from our thoughts.

  6. I’m intrigued by the contrast of “nice” to “kind.” When I was working with Cloris Leachman, many people wanted to know if she was “nice.” That always stumped me, because, no she wasn’t “nice.” But she was’t mean, either. She was just pragmatic and to the point as you suggested you tend to be. I’d explain that nice involves the intent to BE nice. Nice, I’d agree involves the use of manners, common sense, and tact. Some people don’t want to waste time with what it takes to be nice..

    Then there is “kindness” which I see as an inherent quality that you have to a larger or smaller degree. I believe kindness can and should be cultivated through intentional desire to understand one another.

    I don’t believe a person can be nice or not nice to themselves. It is meant for others.

    Kindness pertains to a manifest expression of one’s compassion and willingness to connect on an emotional level with the world around them . I believe you can be kind to yourself insofar as you are understanding, forgiving and compassionate to yourself.

    Seeing kindness as pandering is a fear response; an excuse for non-action. Kindness is self-generated action that requires no plea for help from another. Buy the kid an ice cream… sometimes. Help the person figure out their mistakes if possible. Donate money to smoking cessation programs. Just do SOMETHING. Empathize at the very least.

    Personally, I never think in terms of whether I’m being nice or kind to myself. It doesn’t matter. Being kind and nice to others is the best kindness I can give to myself. Niceness and kindness only apply as I consider my actions towards others. A certain degree of selfishness is allowable when it pertains to one’s body. “I don’t want a brownie because it will do more harm than good.” “I’m going to take a nap today because I need it.” Ultimately, one should consider, however, how what they do will affect others. If I drink myself to death, that is an unkindness to people who depend on me.

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