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In Response to Kindness

I want to thank everyone who commented on my first blog posting on Kindness.  I do read the comments and you’ve each made valuable points.

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.

 So some days the brownie is kind, and some days it’s not.  It was never really about the brownie.

Kindness

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.

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