Though we may not openly acknowledge it, society has engrained in us that it’s “cool” to be mean. We all want to believe we are good people; we rationalize our actions to ourselves, saying that we are kind to our friends, our families and those close with us. We share sympathetic videos on social media. We spend time attending Dance Marathon and Relay for Life. We don’t go out of our way to ruin people’s lives. That — the bare minimum, it seems — is enough to justify the fact that we are good people.
Outward, genuine kindness, not just to friends and family, but to strangers, to people who may otherwise dislike us, is seen as weak and naïve. As a society, we mock those who are unconditionally “nice.” You might value that trait in friends and family (since it directly affects you), but chances are, if an overly friendly and nice stranger approaches you, you’re either second-guessing their motives or thinking they are dim-witted. If it’s the former, chances are you have used a friendly demeanor to get what you wanted and are suspecting the same in someone else. If it’s the latter, you might have had your own kindness taken advantage of and seeing someone continue that attitude seems stupid.
We pride ourselves on comebacks, drama, holding our ground, being self-assured, being “cutthroat” and not being afraid to push others out of the way to get what we want. It’s a very Westernized notion: The self matters more than the community. Do what it takes to succeed. Ambition, accomplishments and confidence are prized over humility, niceness and gentleness. And not without good reason. This is a very competitive and ruthless world we live in. It’s smarter to be on your guard, safer to second-guess the motives of others and more secure to harden yourself instead of letting yourself be soft.
It is a bit cliché to quote The Smiths, but Morrissey has a point. “It takes guts to be gentle and kind,” sang the vocalist of the band in the somewhat depressing “I Know It’s Over.” The 2015 live-action “Cinderella” has a similar message of, “Have courage, and be kind.” It seems we are aware, as human beings, that being kind is one of the bravest things we can do, and yet we dismiss it, deride it and simply don’t do it.
Perhaps it is because the notion of kindness has been so distilled with the concept of getting something in return.
But we’re here to argue, dear reader, kindness is not another resume line. Do not be kind to someone with the expectation to receive something in return; do it because it is the right thing to do.
Society has taught us differently; if you celebrate Christmas, you are told to be a good child and Santa will give you presents. You aren’t told to be good because it is the right thing to do, but because some imaginary fat man will drop off the latest Barbie or Hot Wheels toy under the tree. We are aware that we act “good” in order to get what we want, so we know that others must do the same. There is almost always incentive — presents on Christmas, a promotion, an extra bullet point on our resumes, the satisfaction of posting on social media, the promise of rewards in the afterlife.
However, being unconditionally kind is perhaps one of the most brave and noble things we as human beings can do. It is not something we should look down on, just because we do not do it ourselves, but something we should aspire to.