how to be kind

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, because it pertains directly to who I want to be, as well as how the novel I’m writing works out in the end.

I haven’t read anything specific to kindness (though I’ve read lots on kindness), so I’m kind of winging it here, if only to clarify for my own mind what it is I mean by kindness.

We aren’t talking “nice guy”, like the dude from all those 80s movies that we all felt for with his unrequited love, but who in reality is mostly a creepy stalker who offers little to the girl he loves beyond being a total doormat, but still feels entitled to her love (and her body, usually – more often than not, it’s the idea of sex that drives this behaviour, not the actual person).

I can say that truthfully because I’ve been that guy (and thankfully, am not anymore) and know enough of those types of guys to know that they (formerly we) never actually see the object of our desires for who they actually are, but rather, a woman we trick ourselves into seeing on a pedestal, when the thing we really want to see them up on is a stage with a stripper pole, just for us.

I know an eminent feature of kindness is the selflessness aspect of it, but I’m not sure we can divorce the good feeling of doing something nice from the act, nor necessarily should we. From a behavioural, psychological standpoint, if doing nice things for others feels good, if being kind makes us happy, then it’s motivation to continue doing so, or do even more. Feeling good/being happy plus doing nice/kind things for others? Sounds like a win/win to me.

I think it’s the motivation that matters. Is the intention to do good for others driven by the desire to good things for others, or for self-aggrandizement, or as cover to do other, shittier things? I’ve certainly known both types, and I think we can all point to people who do good things for self-serving motives, and not because it’s a good thing to do.

The driving force behind the kindness is who comes first, I think. If the primary purpose of the act is to polish your image, or provide cover for other, nefarious behaviour, or to bolster a person’s ego, then though the end result might benefit the same as a true kindness, it is not an actual kindness.

An actual kindness puts one’s own benefit second. We can still feel good because of the act. We can still bolster our reputation. It can make up for shitty behaviour (as penance, not as cover). But that’s not the primary reason behind it.

The primary purpose has to be the kindness itself. Whether it’s nice words, making someone laugh, donating to charity or buying the guy’s coffee behind you in the drive-thru, the point is that our benefits must always be secondary to the benefits received by the other party.

I’m not sure I’d call it selflessness entirely, because there are obviously benefits (warm fuzzies, connection with another person), but I think it’s subjugation of those benefits. Too much of our philosophy and politics are defined by dichotomy; a spectrum makes more sense (or even a multi-dimensional polyhedron or set of polyhedrons only connected in concept). I know that’s more difficult to grasp, and either/or is simple, but life is more complicated than that. Humility becomes key.

As the Tao Te Ching puts it (badly paraphrased), we do our work and we let it go.

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