Can you choose kindness – or does it choose you?
If you have to try too hard – is that kindness, or is it something else?
Some of the most poignant acts of kindness you’ll ever see come from very young children – once they’ve developed empathy, but before they become jaded by the world. Children’s capacity for kindness is often humbling and inspiring – because it comes from a place of innocence and sincerity, like their entirely independent generosity, or the thoughtfulness that’s all their own.
What is Kindness?
True kindness isn’t taught. It isn’t something that needs to be remembered; it doesn’t need to be prompted.
Real kindness is innate and felt all the way through; it’s natural and effortless.
Its merit is in its intent. It’s the consideration and the empathy behind the action which holds most value.
One of the best ways to be kind is simply to respect somebody else’s feelings, even – or perhaps especially – if you don’t understand them. Kindness is making the choice to try:
Ask questions; show an interest; find a different perspective; try to gain an insight; ask more questions; demonstrate openness and willingness to be more aware and to become informed.
One of the most unkind and damaging things a person can do, through defensiveness or a lack of understanding, is undermine and invalidate what somebody else is experiencing.
Validation is one of the most powerful gifts we can give one another.
Can We Choose to Be Kind?
I’m fascinated by psychology and I’m painfully aware of how past experiences shape the people we become. When we’re confronted with an opinion we don’t understand, we can use it as an opportunity to tear down – or we can choose to be open to learning something.
I try to be mindful of the adage:
Behind every behaviour is a feeling, and behind every feeling is a need.
This maxim is usually applied to children, because as adults we’re expected – and have a responsibility – to regulate our own emotions. As adults we should default to respect and kindness.
And yet the saying is strikingly applicable to adults too: our behaviours are driven by hurt feelings and unfulfilled needs. It’s the reason why I try to pause and not give in to my reflex reaction to others’ insensitive behaviour – and in response to my own difficult emotions sometimes too.
Kindness is acceptance with no caveat.
Can we choose kindness? I think so. I think as grown ups, we can opt to take that responsibility and we can choose not to simply react at a visceral level, but to conduct ourselves with decency, compassion, tolerance, and benefit of the doubt. And if we make that decision, then over time it will once again become our norm and we won’t have to try so hard.
As children, in that inimitable and exquisite ethereal phase I mentioned earlier, kindness is not a choice – it’s a beautiful instinct.
But as adults? Kindness is a choice. Choose kindness.