On Kindness

I am not often this sappy. You get one chance to see my soft side and that's probably it for the year, okay?

I started thinking about this (which is not actually as rare as you might think) because someone thanked me for being "really kind" not so long ago.

Had I scooped this person out of the path of a car? No.

What I think is a green magnet with a white speech bubble on it saying "practice random acts of kindness"
Had I saved this person from drowning? No.

Had I pulled this person to safety after being about to fall off a cliff? No.

So what had I actually done?

In actual fact, this super amazing kind thing that I'd done was send this person some words of support as said person was struggling through a severe depressive episode. I consider that basic decency more than anything else, but that might reflect what I consider to be really kind - which requires doing a supererogatory act (in layperson's terms, something that is above and beyond what is necessary). I do not consider kindness above and beyond what is necessary, because firstly it's a very basic comfort that anyone can give and secondly, it doesn't require anyone to go out of their way.

Kindness IN SPACE!
That's right - kindness don't cost a damn thing. It doesn't hurt your wallet and it takes something like five minutes out of that oh-so-busy day of yours. Emotionally, it doesn't hurt you to be kind - it may actually make you feel better (that said, I would not trust that abstract too much) - either, and it makes the other person feel better. To spell it out for you again, it costs nothing, it takes very little time, it doesn't hurt you and the other person profits.

So what the fuck is wrong with us as a society that we're so unkind? It's a tiny little thing that anyone can do for anyone else, and we can't even manage that? In fact, sometimes I think we look for excuses to be unkind: they deserved it, they're just looking for attention, it's not that bad, I'm late for work already or I don't want to read their stuff so I can just politely ignore them, I'm sure you can think of many others...We get our pleasure out of hurting people - how do you think bullying works?! And for some reason, the thought of extending kindness to others scares us (that's the conclusion I've come to, anyway, what with people making their various excuses). I don't know why this is; I'm no psychologist. The best I can come up with is that we see happiness as a finite commodity and don't want to share, especially not when we feel pressured into being completely happy all of the time - which is what happens in a culture that extols positive thinking, positive outlook, positive fucking everything. You practically have to shit joy for this society to accept you, at which point you're lying to yourself, deluded, or completely psychofucked out of your skull, but that's another rant for another blog post.

The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention
The thing is, happiness isn't a commodity and it certainly isn't a finite one. Your own happiness doesn't disappear when you take five minutes out of your day to show basic compassion to another being - all that happens is they get a little kindness, and maybe it helps, and maybe you've helped another being to suffer a little less, even if only for those five minutes. And if it doesn't help, it was worth a shot anyway.

If we all did that - if everyone took just five minutes to help someone else out - there'd probably be a lot less suffering and pain in the world.

Practice random kindness
So that didn't convince you? Fine. Good feels good - for the person who's on the receiving end, and for you. It doesn't drain you - it makes you feel more refreshed, and it gives you a happiness that you can't find from drowning yourself in self-help books and pseudo-motivational crap. (That said, if your main motivation for doing good is personal profit, I highly suggest you rethink your motivation.)

And if that didn't convince you, I have one last thing I can probably say to you. I hate to pull this argument out, because it's hackneyed and manipulative as all holy fuck, but you probably think that bad things won't happen to you. It's a well-known cognitive bias. Most of us think that way.

Kindness: One of the greatest gifts you can bestow upon another. If someone is in need, lend them a helping hand. Do not wait for a thank you. True kindness lies within the act of giving without the expectation of something in return.
But shit happens and at some point, you're probably going to end up needing someone's help one way or another. At that point, you're going to realise half the things you held as axioms are weapons-grade bullshit. You'll realise that you're not actually all that responsible and in control. You'll realise that sad people aren't just looking for attention. You'll realise just how horrible the world can be.

That's secondary to the main point, though, which is that you will want even just a hug for some kind of emotional sustenance. And of course, people will do what you did - which is make excuses and walk away. Most likely you won't think that's fair, because human beings are generally a bit shit and inconsistent like that.

People often forget that kindness is free.
Now think back to the previous situation, of some random being suffering; crucially, that being isn't you. But that being is very much like you. That being is exquisitely capable of pain, of joy, of success, of being tortured, of dying, of despair, of that whole range of emotions we extol but don't really think of because they're too intense. Just like you. And just like you, that being is worthy and deserving of a life without suffering. You are their equal in every way.

If you deserve kindness that badly, why not them?