Practicing consideration and generosity of spirit is more than just making cooing noises, says Tanya Meeson
Woman&Home, July 2022
You’ve probably come across a little sign somewhere quietly imploring you to ‘just be kind’. If you’re on social media you probably see at least one of these posts a week, either as a picture or simple text, urging you to ‘just be kind’, followed sometimes by ‘because one never knows what someone is going through’.
Now, I’m going to confess something to you, and I hope you won’t think less of me for it, but these sorts of things usually inspire me in feelings that are quite a lot less than kindly. In fact, if I’m honest, they most often arouse in me teenage-level eye-rolling and feelings of such disdain that all I want to do is stick my tongue out at the original poster and lob back some peevish, Grinch-like response.
Much like its sister nonsense phrases ‘be happy’ and ‘live life’, the command to ‘be kind’ often feels so superficial as to be devoid of any meaning at all and aimed solely at quelling unpleasant feelings.
Whose unpleasant feelings, I’m not sure.
But since I usually see it on social media – which is arguably one of the least kind places in the world – I can only assume that the gentle citizen offering this wisdom does so as a form of self-soothing when they’re having a particularly vulnerable day and are in need of people to behave sensitively to their feelings. (I assume this because I find it’s often the same people who, when they’re feeling full of beans, happily lash anyone who doesn’t conform to their worldview.)
It seems to me that simply making cooing, agreeable noises is what kindness is taken to mean these days. That, or not reacting in a way that expresses ugly feelings or makes people uncomfortable.
But some ugly feelings have their reasons and sometimes telling women especially to ‘just be kind’ is right up there with ‘just smile’.
It’s a terrible whittling down of this profound human behaviour.
Kindness, that generosity of spirit that extends the best parts of ourselves outwards into the world to connect, however briefly, to the people around us for the sole purpose of uplifting and helping the other, is so much more than a passive reaction.
Like ‘love’ and ‘happiness’, ‘kindness’ is a doing word, an act of physical, mental and creative energy, self-motivated and unselfconscious. And like ‘love’ and ‘happiness’, it can take some effort to really embody it as a character trait and way of being in the world if you haven’t been shown some in your own life.
The other day I was talking to a friend about the processes that are unlocked when we embark on the quest of ‘just let it go’, another pithy one-liner that’s bandied about as if simply saying it will make it so.
Anyone who’s really attempted the action of ‘just letting it go’ knows that it’s a journey of many steps: first figuring out that I must let go of something, figuring out why I’m holding onto it in the first place, building the trust and self-care to detach, and so on. And I think becoming a truly kind person – considerate of others without feeling overlooked, giving without feeling diminished by it, without the need for a back-pat – can take as much work.
Maybe that’s just me. I had to learn how to be kind by first mimicking the kind actions and generosity of my friends; I first learned what compassion was through my therapist. I always had the kernels of kindness in me, as do we all I think, but there was a lot I needed to dig through before I felt comfortable with what I have so that I could share it, before I trusted that giving of myself, no matter how small a gesture, wouldn’t leave me depleted in some way.
And I think I’m getting better at it. I might even push the boat out and sign up for some volunteer work soon. I find the older I get the more powerful a need to serve grows in me. But until I find something that tickles me, I guess I could probably practice my kindness muscles by sending loving thoughts and cooing noises to the next person who posts a ‘just be kind’ quote to their Facebook or Twitter feeds.
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Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash