The wave of selfish, self aggrandizing pursuits is crashing on our shores, destroying the common good, and disrupting our lives. The world thrives when kindness abounds. Yet, from the narrow vision of self, the best course is for everyone else to be kind while the individual is free to act as they please. This won’t work. We need to cultivate kindness.
A healthy society can only absorb a limited number of these self-absorbed group. Unfortunately, as those that selfishly chase their own dreams increase in numbers, their poison begins to inflict harm on the whole. We emotionally respond to external threats with fear and anger. Oddly, as the balance of mean people in society shifts, we react with self-protecting meanness, furthering division, isolation, and the destructive toxin of selfish pursuits.
We must end this self-perpetuating wave of selfishness, cultivate kindness, and restore a healthy balance of unity and love. We begin kindness in our homes, moving outward to our neighborhood, community, nation, and to all of human kind.
What is Kindness?
The word ‘kindness’ is derived from its etymological root ‘kin,’ which can be found in other words such as ‘kindred’ and ‘kind.’ Kindness denotes a kinship or sameness, suggesting a natural mode of relating that exists between member of the same family or group.
Last year, I flew to a distant state to attend the funeral of a dear aunt. After the service, I was able to socialize and reconnect with cousins that I haven’t spoken with in nearly forty years. I later shared with my wife about the odd sense of acceptance I felt from extended family, even after all these years.
I understand that this is not the case for all families. The disease of selfishness can tear apart connections even between those that share nearly identical DNA. Sadly, out of the dozens of my cousins, one found offense, divorced herself from the family, and bitterly avoids any interaction with her siblings, parents, and cousins.
Who are Our Kin?
The question, then, becomes who exactly are our kin? With whom do we share likeness? How we answer this question largely determines who we will be kind to.
Certainly, the psychopaths and neurotics among us might not subscribe to any connection, or limited connection, to others. They might completely miss the entire concept of the give and take nature of relationships. As long as we are not cultivating this, we can deal with the stragglers, absorb their self promoting goals and still thrive as a society.
However, it appears we are propagating a narrowing of perspectives, a dividing of groups, and a sense of differences between ‘us’ and ‘them’ within our own society. We certainly are losing a sense of kinship, and with that, a drive to be kind to large swatches of people within our own borders.
I get it, there has always been divisions, conflicting ideals. Yet, these divisions seem to be widening. Even our American flag, which we proudly fly, that has thirteen stripes lying side by side, representing hopes for unity, is now commonly flown with added colors and words, not to convey unity but accentuate divisions, smaller groupings of kinship.
Donna Haraway points out that expanding our perception of who is are kin is the complex task of kindness. She wrote that the problem is “making kin as odd-kin rather than, or at least in addition to godkin’ (2016, p. 2). Here we face the real challenge of kindness; a “kindness that doesn’t privilege our own sense of wellbeing at the expense of the agency of the other” (Willis, 2021).
Political Parties and Cultivating Kindness
Let me be straight forward with this. Neither political party has a monopoly on kindness. A quick visit to any social media platform and we see polarizing, hateful speech, directed at opposing views from both Democrats and Republicans.
The hate speech directed at Trump, McConnel, and company is not much different than the hate speech directed at Biden, Pelosi and company. The ideology is different but the lack of kindness is equally divided. Each side self-righteously boasts of innate kindness while fervently working to demonize and destroy, cultivating fear and hatred—not kindness.
T. Franklin Murphy wrote, “the complexities of our society work because of cooperation. As long as the majority contributes, the group maintains strength, but if they divide, they weaken and fall” (2016).
Strong societies need political balance with majority nether stingily hoarding resources; or parasitic draining resources from beneath. Strength comes from unilateral contributing to the whole, whether a nation or a marriage (Csikszentmihalyi, 2018).
“Kindness is a chain reaction. It’s a wave that keeps rolling, and all it needs is one person to start it. One small kind act can cause a ripple effect that impacts an entire community.”~Inspire Kindness
What is Cultivating Kindness?
We don’t cultivate kindness by being more and more compassionate and caring to smaller and smaller groups of people. We are not kind when we elevate ourselves, claiming to be ‘chosen by god,’ and then galloping into other regions and slaughtering people to cleanse the earth of their terrible scourge.
Humans have notoriously used ‘righteous’ objectives to achieve group superiority throughout human history. Pope Gregory IX (c. 1232) established the inquisition, notorious for the use of torture and execution, for the suppression of heresy. The crusades into the holy land that murdered thousands was driven by the Roman Catholic Church against pagans and heretics for alleged religious ends.
Christian churches are not alone in the use of cruelty to establish power; in the name of a righteous cause, many people have suffered. ‘Righteous’ causes have served as a rallying call to commit violence without guilt, whether it be a police officer, an army, or a political movement. The violence is excused because the victim is removed from our list of kin, and no longer seen as deserving our kindness.
We share this planet with nearly 8 billion other people. Cultivating kindness requires that we expand the number of people we include in our tight circles of kinship. Kimberley Brown, a meditation teacher and author, suggests that “cultivating kindness means opening your heart, with patience and attention, to your painful feelings—and to other peoples’ painful feelings” (2021). In a sense, she is saying our actions have the potential to cause suffering to ourselves and others. We should act with mindfulness of this potential, mitigating suffering whenever possible.
Making Kin Through Unnatural Alliances
In a thoughtful article, Alys Longley compares kindness to water—a liquid body of “microresistances that can carve out routes through rocks” (2021). Perhaps, we overlook the power of kindness to heal our nation and individuals.
Our task is to make kin through means different then natural attractions, occurring through relatedness. This requires tempering our competitive nature that only rewards my desires through me winning and you losing. This is called a zero-sum-game.
Kinship suggests literal relation to each other. Alliance “implies that we are different but related; that we are bound to each other by a treaty, not heredity” (2021). The alliance creates the kinship and along with the Hollies we can sing:
The road is long(Hollies, 1969)
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where, who knows where
But I’m strong
Strong enough to carry him
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother
… So on we go
His welfare is of my concern
No burden is he to bear
We’ll get there
Our alliances create a disjunctive synthesis, which is “a relational mode that does not have similarity or identity as its cause … but divergence or distance” (2021).
Mutually Beneficial Relationships
How does this mutual beneficial relationship look, we might ask. Longley refers to an “asymmetric reciprocal implication.” This is a meshing of points of view, a reciprocal contamination that leads to an unnatural alliance.
We get so lost in our points of view that we can’t see the weaknesses. No political position is all encompassing, benefitting everyone equally. Our personal desires in relationships are one sided, weighted heavily with what benefits us most as an individual. We are blinded by our desired benefits, ignoring the inherent costs to others.
Kindness understands this as Brown stated, kindness considers “other peoples’ painful feelings.” This asymmetric reciprocal implication is that these positions of alliance reward all involved parties in their own way. Longley presents the example of the wasp and the orchid to demonstrate such an alliance.
“For the becoming-orchid of the wasp and vice versa, but won’t produce a wasp-orchid.” The wasp cross pollinates the orchid, and the orchid provides necessary nectar to the wasp. The kinship between the orchid and wasp contributes to propagation and survival of both. It creates an unnatural alliance, giving “rise to kindness, or the sharing and renewals of worlds” (2021).
The point is we need each other. We need to share the bountiful harvest through kindness and consideration. While the concept is a little idealistic, we can do better. We enhance tender feelings for those sharing in the journey of life. We can seek and support leaders that do the same, rejecting those that preach and create divisiveness.
The Internet and Meanness
The internet and its inherent nature of anonymity has generated an environment that thrives on aggression. We parade mistakes through public, treating small errors as devastating character flaws, and millions of followers reward our cruelty. These behaviors betray kindness. We deliver a painful swat with our words in exchange for a few social media likes.
We may believe these insulting words don’t matter. Consequently, we don’t see into the eyes or hearts of those injured, so we pretend they don’t exist. Our harshness does matter. It betrays our kinder natures. Is our kindness just a social measure we express when the other is present and known? When the receiver of our harshness is a non-discernable other, only known by a screen name, are we still kind?
A Few Closing Words On Cultivating Kindness
Certainly, any thinking being can conjure up circumstances where these lessons may not apply. Our work is to find the situations where they do apply, expanding our opportunities to be kind, to a growing group of people, even those that exist outside our normal group of related beings.
We must stop this insanity. We must cultivate kindness, enlarging our groups, establishing alliances, sharing similarities, and forgiving the small errors that plague all of our lives. We need to embrace the concept of ‘kindsight.’ Kindsight views others in a manner that gently accepts imperfection as part of our human existence (Murphy, 2018).
We can start a new wave of kindness. We can expand our circles, seeping into the endless cracks and holes that our meanness has forged, giving life and hope to the world.
Brown, Kimberly (2021). How to Cultivate Kindness When Other People Make You Crazy. Tricycle. Published 7-13-21. Accessed 11-8-2022.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2018). The Evolving Self: A Psychology for the Third Millennium.
Haraway, Donna (2016). Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Experimental Futures). Duke University Press Books; Illustrated edition.
Longley, Alys (2021). Kindness as Water in the University. Knowledge Cultures, 9(3), 184-205.
Murphy, T. Franklin (2018). Kindsight. Flourishing Life Society. Published 6-2018. Accessed 11-8-2022.
Murphy, T. Franklin (2016). Human Kindness. Psychology Fanatic. Published 7-2016. Accessed 11-8-2022.
Willis, E. (2021). Editorial: The Politics and Practices of Kindness. Knowledge Cultures, 9(3), 7-19.