Praise for kindness
If you had to choose, would you rather your children be smart or kind?
There are different variations of this question: If you had to choose, would you rather your child be strong or kind? Intelligent or kind? Talented or kind? It is one of those annoying questions that might be difficult to answer immediately in a satisfying way. But why?
Many would be quick to point out the false dilemma; the child does not have to be one or the other, it could be both and that’s what most would prefer. But even that, in my humble opinion, is an understatement of the pernicious silliness of the question. The issue is not that the child could be both, but rather that the child would have to be either both or neither. Kindness is not independent of intelligence or strength.
It is an impoverished kind of kindness that comes without intelligence or strength or wisdom. If I help others because I have no other option, am I kind? If I help others out of fear, whether of being disliked, mistreated or otherwise abused, am I kind? Conversely, what kind of kindness could I offer, possessing neither strength nor intelligence nor wisdom?
Perhaps less clear to see is that it is an impoverished strength and intelligence that comes without kindness. No matter how strong or intelligent we are, we are mortal. For this reason, the way we see strength and intelligence is always duplicitous. Maybe we can lift the heaviest weights or solve the most difficult problems of mathematics, but if we fear the tiniest of pains, balk at the slightest opposition and rage at the smallest of provocations, how strong and intelligent are we truly in the broader senses of those terms? Is not a person who can handle pain, opposition and provocation with steely unflappability the stronger and more intelligent person in a life full of unavoidable limitations and adversities?
In kindness, strength and intelligence have the opportunity to take on the divine quality of immortality. For in order to offer our strength and intelligence to a stranger, we must perceive our own strength and intelligence to be in abundance or else perceive ourselves to engage in self-destruction. The latter is, of course, not at all desirable. We should not help others out of self-loathing.
A man or a woman may seem both strong and intelligent, they may have money and plenty of people surrounding them, but if that same man or woman lacks kindness, you may be certain that he or she is silently running from the devil. In their mind, there is never enough, they feel the weight of their own mortality unbearably heavy upon their backs and that is what drives them.
Another might seem both weak and slow by comparison, have only modest means and a modest circle of people surrounding them, but if that man or woman is one not to hesitate in offering a helping hand to a person in need, that person is rich, strong and intelligent, in ways far more significant than the former man or woman.
I’ll repeat myself here, we should not help others out of self-loathing, such “help” is not kindness at all. If we help others with the distinct feeling that the cost of offering that help is too high, we start to nurture resentment which ultimately corrupts our own lives and the lives of those around us. Even a parent can be too self-effacing towards their child.
Genuine kindness is the greatest expression of both strength and intelligence. It is, for the religious minded, what Jesus embodies and when we are kind, we are truly children of God. Less esoterically, the confidence genuine kindness inspires in ourselves is unrivalled, and with that there is also great happiness, internal peace and success. To say anything less of kindness, is to do a disservice to those genuinely kind people in our lives who uplift us all.