Chatting about kindness today. What is it?
Well, let’s first start with what it isn’t, and why.
Kindness tends to be seen as “doing something for others” but with a tonne of package deals incorporated into such an action. It is often the case that it is conflated with sacrificing something of your own.
Well…no, that’s not really being kind. That’s being sacrificial, or altruistic for those that like that particular word to describe it (it’s the more precise one anyway). Kindness doesn’t come with the condition that your time be wasted. It also does not come with the condition that you sacrifice something of greater value to you – that is just sacrifice, and usually when we do things for people because we want to, we are doing it because we want to. It’s important to us. In other words, it’s not a sacrifice.
Some would argue that it is indeed a sacrifice within the context that you’re “sacrificing” your time or resources in order to help someone, but that would again imply that you’re losing something of greater value. It’s also semantics.
The basic rule is that sacrifice/altruism requires that you absolve yourself of things higher in value to you than the action that you’re committing to. For example, you give all your money to a cause and go totally bankrupt. You’re destroying your own life for something else, and presumably out of “kindness”.
That’s not kindness.
Another form that it tends to take is doing things out of an obligation or return of investment. Eye for an eye. This isn’t kindness, this is trade, and it’s usually set in stone by a contractual agreement. This is also a dumber one.
Let’s say you sign a contract to earn $4000 a month for a company on the condition that you work 96 hours a month for them in whatever industry they’re in. You both do as agreed and carry on with your lives. That’s just a contractual agreement. It’s expected.
Now let’s look at covert contracts – these tend to be the insidious distortions of the word “kindness” or a corrupted form of “trade” – this is the important one. Let’s say someone gives you money as thanks for doing a small thing. You think nothing of it, appreciate the gesture and carry on.
That person comes back six months later, resenting you over the fact that you didn’t help them build their company. That’s not your fault, that’s on them. If no explicit knowledge of what the whiney son of a bitch wanted was made explicit, it’s their fault and they’re a shitty person. That’s a covert contract; it happens in all kinds of relationships, and is the bane of the “nice guy” in romantic ones. Nice guys are actually assholes – see: No More Mr Nice Guy by Robert Glover.
I digress. None of these things are what kindness is. They’re package dealing too many things and corrupts what being kind is. It’s also not about community or “the people”. Placing a group above you when it’s of no value to you is sacrifice. You are not being kind, you are being sacrificial, and you’re compelled to do such actions out of obligation or pressure from others.
Anyway, let’s talk about what kindness is, starting with an example.
A few months ago, a co-worker of mine asked me to do some technical work for him on a small project, because I have the skills to do so and can do it lightning fast. I said sure, and had it done within an hour or so for him, and it saved him tonnes of time.
Conversely, a little while ago, he took over something of mine after I asked, because it would’ve been a hassle for me to do so at the time due to certain circumstances. He did it, no questions asked, as a favour.
Those things are kindness. They come from a place of valuing your fellow man, but not in a sacrificial sense. I know he’s a good man, as am I, and doing things from a benevolent position feels good. I want to help him, because my world is better when the good in the world do better. We are building each other up, without conditions. We both win.
There are some people who contact me in private, asking for advice. I almost always give it and with really nothing asked for in return. If I’m busy, I tell them I’m busy and don’t allow them to waste my time. Otherwise, it brings me joy to see other people get better.
When I go out with my girlfriend, I almost always pay for lunch. I just like doing it, and I expect nothing in return for it. She’s good to me, she’s a good part of my life, and it brings me joy to do these things. There are no hidden agreements there – it’s just me wanting to do these things. Conversely, if I actually can’t pay, she has zero issues with it. I just tell her the truth and without hesitation she’ll take the bill.
That is kindness. It is unconditional but not sacrificial – it’s a benevolence towards the good things in life, and an indifference to what you get in return for doing those things. You like doing it – it’s valuable to you to see others do well.
I don’t care if I don’t get paid by people when I do a little extra. Nor do I care if my girlfriend doesn’t pay for lunch – but I do care that those people do well. I guess a condition that you can apply to “kindness” is that you expect the people you are kind to, to become something better in their own lives too.
This is what kindness is. You don’t go out of your way and sacrifice what is valuable to you in order to make others happy. You do things for people because you value them.
It’s always about value. This means there are people you don’t value, and that is just a fact. Assholes exist. Needy people exist. I don’t value those kinds of people, and while I may be kind initially, repeated bouts of poor behaviour culminates in the rescinding of my benevolence. That is proper, and most importantly, just.
Never give your time and energy to those who prove to be a detriment to you. You are not being kind by allowing a detriment – you are being sacrificial. The kind thing to do is to care for yourself. It must always start from you.
So be kind to people because you want to be. Don’t be if you don’t want to be – but you’ll find that it’s simply a natural state to those you value the most. Of course context matters, and this topic is far more complicated than the 1000 or so words I’ve written on it, but you get the gist I think.
Just never think of it as some form of replacing a higher value for a lower. That is not kindness, and unfortunately, most people think it is.