The Kindness Project: The Cost of Kindness
About The Kindness Project:
Too often kindness is relegated to a random act performed only when we’re feeling good. But an even greater kindness (to ourselves and others) occurs when we reach out even when we aren’t feeling entirely whole . It’s not easy, and no one is perfect. But we’ve decided it’s not impossible to brighten the world one smile, one kind word, one blog post at a time. To that end, a few of us writers have established The Kindness Project, starting with a series of inspirational posts.
The Cost of Kindness
I think that childhood often teaches us to be cruel. When you’re a kid, kindness is rarely rewarded, not in reality. And you’re too inwardly focused to understand the impact you have on others.
When I was in middle school I was in a specific track of classes that contained the “smart kids.” The rest of the school were the self-proclaimed “dumb kids.” And the dumb kids hated the smart kids. I remember reading during lunch one day when a group of “dumb kids” came over and took my book, which was about dragons, and made fun of me for it.
After a while one of the girls, clearly uneasy, said, “Leave her alone, just give it back, let’s go.” And that little bit of kindness was enough to make the rest of the pack jump on her, turning all their mockery onto her. “What, you want to be a smart kid too?” And teased and insulted her mercilessly. They left her there standing awkwardly next to my table, and we looked at each other. If it had been a movie she would’ve smiled timidly and said, “I like dragons too.” Instead she threw my french fries on the floor and followed the other girls.
I think we’re trained through this kind of episode to think that kindness is weakness. For me, kindness often actually requires great strength. It’s not looking away when you pass someone less fortunate than you. It’s not yelling at the customer service guy when he tells you the repair man’s coming between 9 AM and 5 PM. But true kindness happens when you’re tired and in a darker place yourself, and that’s the hardest of all. It’s understanding when someone else is cruel to you that it often means more about them than you. It’s letting others win when you need a victory yourself–but they need it more. It’s listening, when all you want to do is shout about the things that are hurting you.
I was a prickly teenager. It wasn’t like I was intentionally mean or anything, but to me, straight up kindness was always a weakness. Emotion in general was weakness. And I wanted to be tough. I wanted to be independent and self-sufficient, I didn’t want to need anyone. I was shy, and to hide that I used sarcasm like a knife, not realizing that it could sometimes be pretty hurtful to the people on the receiving end. I was too proud to go out of my way to be nice, or to let someone else win. In my mind the price of being kind for kindness’s sake was way too high.
But it wasn’t until I was bemoaning the fact that a new acquaintance didn’t seem to like me much that a friend of mine told me bluntly, “Well, it’s because you’re not very nice.” When I stared at her, horrified, she quickly clarified, “Only when someone’s first meeting you! You’re awesome once people get to know you, but it’s hard to get in there at first.” Though it was subtle at the time, that ended up changing my life.
While I’d love to say that I instantly became a goddess of kindness, no one changes their ways overnight. I’m still somewhat standoffish sometimes because of my shyness. I have bad days. I think anyone who doesn’t is probably a pod person. But being kind doesn’t make you weaker, it makes you stronger. Cruelty–or at least indifference–is rooted in self-consciousness, but kindness is selfless by its very nature. You aren’t paying attention to yourself. It costs you nothing to be kind.
One of my favorite quotes about kindness was said by President FDR–and he wasn’t even talking about people so much as policy. But it’s always stuck with me, possibly because I first read it shortly after that eye-opening conversation with my friend.
He said: “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.”
Posting today for The Kindness Project:
Elizabeth Davis * Sarah Fine * Liza Kane * Amie Kaufman * Sara Larson * Matthew MacNish * Sara McClung * Gretchen McNeil * Tracey Neithercott * Lola Sharp * Michele Shaw * Meagan Spooner * Carolina Valdez Miller
Be sure to check them out! We post the second Wednesday of every month. Want to join us? Grab our button and spread a little kindness.