I have seen an endless slew of posts talking about kindness recently. It bothers me—like irrationally bothers me. It’s not that I disagree with being kind, but I feel we preach it as a value and people don’t ever look at why they are doing it. We continually shout, “Be kind” as if that is going to erase the fact that we compete and treat each other like crap. We are searching for something more—and I don’t believe that kindness is the result we are looking for. Not really, at least. Being kind won’t provide the type of fulfillment we need.
I feel the kindness we preach is false. I truly understand the point people are trying to make which is simply be nice when you have the opportunity—which is all the time. But I feel this absolves some people from personal accountability and it allows people to forget their shared responsibility to each other. The kindness we talk about is highly performative to make people see you in a certain way. And kindness is an action not a behavior. Kindness doesn’t come freely. There is always motivation behind being kind. We aren’t taught to be kind, we are taught to appear kind. I believe what we are really looking for is understanding.
When you take the time to know, to feel, to see, to experience something outside of your perspective, you cultivate a shared knowledge. And it is easier to be kind, genuinely kind, when you understand. Establishing understanding involves empathy and shared humanity. Can kindness include these things? Of course it can. Is it important? YES. Bot as a goal or a value, kindness falls short.
We evolve kindness when needed. Like stopping kids fighting, picking up a dropped pen for someone, giving a compliment or encouragement. Understanding is deeper and it takes more. Understanding gets to the root. It creates better systems because the human is front and center of decisions. It embraces all. Understanding can foster kindness—but we need to understand.
When we understand each other, we can genuinely say, “I see your experience and I see how it got you here. I see what you need because of those things.” The world needs more willingness to be seen at this level, at our core. The more you are willing to express what we need, the more willing other people may be to show what they need as well. We see how much more we have in common.
By all means be kind. Take the time to smile at someone who seems to be hurting. Take the few extra minutes to help a co-worker understand an assignment. Take some time to have a conversation with a friend who seems to be struggling—or take time to celebrate their wins. But do all this with the goal of understanding what it took to bring them to that point. And then try to understand the next person. And the next person…and understand them as you understand yourself.