One kind word can warm three winter months.
It is not as easy to be kind as we are told when we are children. Ethics and morals develop and divide ideas of kindness because how you treat someone becomes based on a set of internalised rules and protocols and these don’t always align across society.
Do you tolerate the inappropriate view of someone you broadly get on with, in the hope of educating them in this point of disagreement with your consistency and kindness in other things? Or is this appeasement? Do you really sometimes need to be cruel to be kind? Is not rocking the boat when someone asks you not to kindness? What about when you do rock the boat to speak up for someone- kindness or activism?
Kindness is consideration of other people without expectation of reward. Sometimes in being kind to one, you can be unkind to others simply because of their conflicting stances.
I think considering another person is to be aware of them as an individual, so to be kind takes account of their needs, their traumas and making the provision they need. Autism books often talk about iceberg behaviours. You see the part above the surface, but to understand it and act appropriately you need to get to grips with the parts under the surface.
You cannot be truly be kind if you are only dealing with the part above the surface.
At the same time though, kindness should not reward poor behaviours. It is not an excuse to allow someone to be hurtful. I don’t agree you need to be cruel to be kind, because cruelty takes pleasure in hurt, but I do think you need to be firm. There are lines that shouldn’t be crossed without consequence.
I work with some people who are so hurt and chronically under-supported that they thrash about like injured animals, hurting those around them, including those who are trying to help. Regularly, I have to remind the others professionals working with them, that their poor manners, lack of thanks or hurtful mistrust does not make them unworthy of help, in fact it is a sign things are lacking. That doesn’t mean we don’t set boundaries on their behaviours. I get hurt too and have to take steps to protect myself. Ask my clients to step out if they are being mean to people who are doing what they can within their own constraints, including me.
And then I go to Twitter.
To return to the iceberg analogy, when you are dealing with people you see in a holistic setting, you can start to unpick their motivations. You can talk, but mainly you listen, and from that you sort out the causes of the behaviour you see. When someone is a real person to you, working out where to draw those lines, how to be considerate of them and make their life better are easy to see. Even if you are only seeing 10%, you are seeing enough other clues to the remaining 90% if you are observant.
On Twitter and other media we see a fraction of a fraction presented through whatever prisms the speaker and receiver wish and crushed into imprecise language choices to fit the word count. Whilst there are people out there who are truly callous, cruel and self centred, and business who are there for the money, there are many more that we judge based on this tiny refracted image of who they are.
If you can’t be kind, say nothing at all.
Twitter is very instant. If you miss a day or two, you can miss a whole shitstorm and end up paddling through the mess trying to make sense of it all. It is possible to be morally and ethically correct but at the same time and in the same thread be inconsiderate of an individual and what has shaped their world view.
One of the things I find hard is when something like this has happened, not taking a side has been met with instant condemnation. To me, kindness is often stepping back and listening carefully first. It’s often far more nuanced than can ever be achieved on twitter. It’s taking the hurt and the violence of an altercation and distilling the key points and taking action- something which may or may not be visible on Twitter.
Lights: Step out of the spotlight. Kindness is offering sympathy rather than empathy, where empathy changes the focus to yourself. Kindness isn’t always an apology, but when it is, it is a “Sorry” without a “but”.
Camera: Don’t think about how your words or actions are going to play out to others. If they are not for public consumption, but need saying, find places and ways to do this that are constructive. Kindness is being firm, often privately, rather than fuelling a bonfire because you look good in firelight.
Action: Kindness is finding something praiseworthy and praising it. Kindness is taking the time to understand where someone is coming from before you act or speak. Kindness can be action rather than words.