In Response to Kindness
I don’t think that Kindness and Compassion are interchangeable. I think they refer to different states of being. I do think they are very easily confused both in intention and in action. Not that anybody suggested they were the same, but I’d like to make a distinction. I’m just not sure I’m clear enough to draw that line myself.
I’m not sure that Kindness implies Helpfulness either. Although being helpful is certainly kind. I think that Kindness can also be Not being helpful, removing yourself from the situation. I think sometimes Kindness can be still, and open and welcoming without taking action at all.
I do think intent matters. But I know that all the best intention of kindness can lead to some ultimately nasty behaviors regarding other people. Very often I’ve seen kind intent used as an excuse to make judgements upon or decisions for other people. Taking away someone’s autonomy isn’t kind no matter how thoughtful the intention.
For instance, is it kinder to tell someone a piece of information that is difficult, or is it more kind not to tell them? For me this depends not only upon the intention, but on the information. Is it a fact or an opinion? Is it something you know or something you’ve heard? Is it something they can do something about (like the toilet paper?) Or is it something that can’t be fixed (like the ink stain on the back of their skirt.)
The easy example here is with medical information, both with informed choice and with HIPAA. Do you tell someone ALL the likely side effects when many of them are temporary, not life threatening, and scary enough (but not as bad as they sound) that the person might not get the treatment they need? Do you believe the patient can determine, “it’s okay if my friend stays I can tell them anything,” when the patient probably can’t anticipate what you have to tell them?
I have been in situations where I literally did not trust a family member’s definition of kindness. I was pretty sure that this particular person would decide that I needed sleep more than I needed to know, in the moment, if something dramatic was happening with my infant son. Whatever happened it could wait until morning. I had seen this type of kindness demonstrated in other settings with other family members and did not want it applied to me.
My daughter spent 10 days in England this summer. She said when she left, if her brother ended up in the hospital, please don’t call her. She knew there would be nothing she could do and she couldn’t handle that kind of stress. Smart girl. Not only was she self aware, but she was being kind to herself in letting me know how to be kind to her.
I’m pretty sure if I can beat myself up I can also choose to be kind to myself. I don’t think kindness is limited to either intent or action. Sometimes I think acts of kindness can be unintentional, especially when they happen to meet just the right need at just the right time. That sort of “mind reading” all the kind intent in the world can not achieve.