It’s a new year, the time of year when we turn to new resolutions to be healthier, to exercise more, to sleep better, to be more mindful, to be less selfish, to be nicer, to give more, to be more productive, to shop less, to save more … the list goes on and on.
In the wake of the 2016 elections, many people are focusing on being nicer, kinder, and more generous. This could involve participating in more random acts of kindness, more instances of paying it forward, more effort to just be nicer to people.
What is kindness?
Who do we reserve our acts of kindness for?
We donate our time volunteering for causes that are important to us. That’s kindness. We donate our money to other causes. That’s kindness, too. We do favors for family and friends and colleagues. That’s kindness. We click the like buttons on Facebook and Twitter, which lets us believe that we’re being kind without us having to really do much else. That’s some kind of passive kindness that might well have some genuine altruism behind it but doesn’t require any further action. Maybe it’s lip-service kindness.
It’s easy to be kind when it comes to the people and causes that matter to us. It’s easy to be kind when it comes to supporting those with whom we agree, those we feel we understand, those we feel are like ourselves. But what about being kind to people on the opposite end of the political spectrum? What about being kind to people whose faith or religion is different from our own? What about being kind to people of a different race? Of a different economic status? Of a different part of the world? Of a different gender? Of a different sexual identity?
Maybe in 2017 we should resolve not just to be kind, but to be more tolerant, to be more open-minded, to be less judgmental. Maybe true kindness isn’t just about being nice to people we already like and care about. Maybe true kindness is about reaching out to people we usually pay little or no attention to. Maybe true kindness is about connecting with people we usually treat with disdain. Maybe true kindness is about understanding people we usually dismiss.
Maybe true kindness means we lift the lamp for the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free—no matter who they are, where they come from, what they do for a living, whom they love, whom they worship, or what politics they practice.
Maybe true kindness means listening instead of shouting. Maybe true kindness means not making that snarky post or chirping in with that nasty tweet. Maybe true kindness means asking someone’s name instead of calling someone a name.
Maybe true kindness means not assuming the worst in someone who seems different from us. Maybe true kindness means searching for common ground. Maybe true kindness means taking the time to lend a hand to lift someone up instead of making a point of trying to knock someone down.
Maybe kindness means not succumbing to our basest instincts, even when those childish impulses are modeled by those who are supposed to be leading us. Maybe kindness means modeling the kind of behavior we wish our children to exhibit. Maybe kindness means living The Golden Rule and doing for others as we wish others would do for us.
Study after study has shown that being kind and performing acts of kindness makes us happier and healthier. Being kind is good for the do-gooder as well as for the recipient. Not that we should be kind because it’s good for us; we should be kind because it’s the right thing to do.
But, perhaps no matter the reason behind it, it seems like now more than ever we need to see more kindness in the world. And we can’t wait for someone else, everyone else, anyone else to be kind, to launch the kindness movement. We each of us has to take the initiative and be kind, even when we don’t feel like being kind or nice or tolerant or generous. Perhaps especially when we don’t feel like being kind or nice or tolerant or generous.
With everything that’s going on in the world today, perhaps 2017 is the perfect time to stop rationing kindness. Perhaps now is the time to spread kindness a little bit further and a little bit wider, to be nice even when we might not feel like being nice. It’s possible: We don’t have to post the snarky comeback on Facebook. We don’t have to share that nasty meme. We don’t have to retweet those disgusting 140 characters. We don’t have to give in to every ugly impulse we have to prove how right we are and how wrong everyone else is. Maybe being kind, at least in some ways, is as simple as not being mean.
The American humorist Erma Bombeck once said, “A child needs your love most when he deserves it least.” Perhaps we can tweak that a bit to say that those who deserve the most kindness are those who deserve it the least. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but it’s something to think about. At any rate, it speaks to the notion that we need not be so mean to each other, that we need not be so dismissive, that we need not be so rude, so disdainful, so divisive. A little kindness might go a long way.
I will do what I can to make 2017 The Year of Kindness. I’ll try harder to listen to people with opposing views. I’ll do more to restrain my own snarky retorts to tweets and posts I find ridiculous. I’ll work harder to be more generous of thought, time, and spirit with people from all walks of life. I’ll work on being less judgmental. I’ll work on not rationing kindness, to not restricting acts of kindness to the people I already like and the people I already know and care about. Instead, I’ll spread kindness far and wide, to people everywhere.
Will you join me?
“A life lived for others is the only life worth living.”