Kindness as a radical value

Kindness is often seen is a rather fuzzy way, as a quasi-religious virtue of being “nice” to other people. “Kindness is like snow- It beautifies everything it covers.” as Kahlil Gibran puts it rather cutely.

I think kindness can be something more powerful, a potential tool of personal and social transformation. Here are three way of looking at it:

a) As a way of perceiving the world: kindness invites us to consider other people and the natural world not just as objects to use (for good or ill) but as subjects with which we already have a latent connection. Choosing to seek connection changes our understanding of the world and our place in it at a deep level.

b) As a stimulus for positive reciprocation: genuine kindness seeks no reward, but generous behaviour towards others usually prompts a positive response. There’s plenty of research to show that being kind correlates with life satisfaction, so provoking kindness in others may make them feel better.

c) As a way of nurturing affirmative community: the virtuous circle of seeking connection and reciprocating kindness generates pro-social behaviour throughout the network of relationships of those involved, and beyond. It creates healthy bonds of community by revealing the best in people.

I don’t think kindness is just a desire for sweetness and light. It goes beyond optimism and good-heartedness. Perhaps it’s a shrewd way of redefining how we create positive social relationships – kindness as a tactic to resist the anger and polarisation of our times?

What do you think?

Simon Keyes 2 August 2019

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