Kindness as Strength

Can we be kind?
Can our mutual woundedness unite us?
Can we let the germs of the world and acknowledge our shared vulnerability?

From the moment I could remember, I was consistently taught that kindness was one of the most important traits one could have. I don’t know if that’s because of the person my mother wanted me to grow up to be, or because it was the only way she could manage 4 girls, but it was a lesson that has consitently stuck with me thoughout my life. Reason, rationality, the ability to empathize, and the concept that sometimes, you have to put others before yourself were all large themes growing up in our household.

My mom and three sisters

To others, this is a concept for foreign. “Kindness, we will argue in this book — not sexuality, not violence, not money — has become our forbidden pleasure” (5). Kindness is something you either don’t talk about doing, so as to not appear weak, or something one would brag about doing as a transformative experience. Most people think it a sign of weakness to willingly expose themselves in this fashion, to allow yourself to enter another person’s shoes and experience what they would experience in a situation. “ […] because it is based on a susceptibility to others, a capacity to identify with their pleasures and suffering” (5). This mode of thinking has affected our ability to envoke pleasure from the act of giving, and has skewed our perception of how we interact with other people. We are not as open of a society; in order to maintain this facade of strength, one would need to hide weaknesses that kindness and compassion from others could fix. We, as a whole, have discarded kindness in favor of developing the illusion that we are strong, independent, people.

“Kindness — that is, the ability to bear the vulnerability of others, and therefore of oneself — has become a sign of weakness” (8).

Why is it, then, that kindness has developed such a weak reputation? Since the dawn of the “self-made man” in America, the notion that the American Dream was pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and making something of yourself, Western society has seen dependence on others as a form of weakness, “[…] valuing independence above all things” (95). If one is independent, they do not need the help and kindness of others in order to succeed. The desire by most people in life is no longer to be kind and help one another, but instead be independent and self-reliant.

“Independence and self-reliance are now the great aspirations, ‘mutual belonging’ is feared and unspoken; it has become one of the greatest taboos of our society” (6).

The concept that kindness could be a harmful thing, that it could be “the saboteur of the successful life” (5) makes me laugh. Success, to me, is not something exclusive to one person. It’s a condition that can be attained by a group, and is often more rewarding when it is attained by a group. That’s why I have so much fun at NGS: it’s clearly a community where individuals are working for the betterment of the whole, despite barriers and obstacles.

“How do people come to forget about kindness and the deep pleasure it gives to them?” (5).

By adopting this dogma in modern society, we have harmed ourselves. Kindness does indeed exist in the world, and to call it weakness is a diservice to its true form. “Any person foolish enough to deny the existence of human kindness had simply lost touch with emotional reality” (5). The emotional reality around us, the ability to empathize and sympathize and experience things from other’s perspectives, is a unique experience. It is an experience that helps us define our morality, as we discussed in the past weeks. It is not something that shows weakness; kindness, in reality, is a sign of true strenght.