Kindness Defined

Yesterday I wrote…

…Kindness is a behavior marked by ethical characteristics, an awareness of the impact of your actions, and a desire to better yourself and others.

There are four distinct aspects I now wish to explore.

First, kindness is a behavior. It cannot be represented as a single act. Donating to charity is an act, and can be considered by some as good. Paying someone a compliment he or she deserves, again an act, can be considered nice. These are all actions, but the fundamentals, the cause that drive those acts determine the fabric of a person’s character. Moods will vary from time to time, and everyone will experience cloudy as well as sunny days. But how a person responds to those moods, to their life’s weather changes, defines their behavior. To put it another way, how a person acts, given a good or bad scenario, is only a snapshot of who they are in that moment. The aggregate of those actions over time will reveal person’s behavior as driven by a person’s character.

Second, kindness is ethical. Ethics is the moral philosophy that enables us to weigh the concepts of right and wrong. We will explore kindness in ethics in more length another day. However, one clarification before we move on is that the concept of right and wrong is subjective. This is evident in the fact that there is a field of philosophy dedicated to dissecting what could be a correct action given a scenario. I have found that using your common sense and your moral compass will steer you bravely in most occasions. So chances are if there is a little voice in your head saying not to do something, or your gut saying that you should…listen to it.

Third, kindness requires on self-awareness. The cliché, “the broader the base, the taller the tower,” is a true, encouraging statement. Meaning, if a person is well rounded, focusing on improving their strengths as well weaknesses, and is knowledgeable in many ways, he or she will likely succeed and an ambition. Although well intended, masters of their crafts, be it athletes, academics, engineers, leaders…got that way because they all focused concretely on their strengths. The difference between being good or great is separated by being exceptional in only a few or even one characteristic. Apply that same concept to us as human beings. We are, as far as we know, truly unique in this universe. Take a moment and wrap your mind around how utterly amazing we are. We have for tens-of-thousands of years been exempt from the food chain, birthing undying civilizations, thought shattering art, towers that stretch the imagination, and far reaching technologies that has brought the future to today. What is the difference between us and all other life we know? It is our gift of self-awareness. Rene Descartes said, “Cogito ergo sum” …think, therefore I am…which was the answer to the question, “Do we exist?” So it stands to reason that one way to become the best versions of ourselves is to “double down” on this gift that we have…self-awareness. Consider the inward and outward benefits of honing sharp this ability. To understand yourself is driven by understanding what you enjoy, and dislike, types of people and things you want to be around, how you respond in good as well as stressful times, to be in reverence of your past, to be present in the moment, to understand forgiveness…all in the pursuit of leading a more fulfilling life. Now apply that clarity outward, and to understand how your actions impact others. Consider the last time you thought about how you make others feel? How you treated your loved ones, or complete strangers? Did you consider your mood? Did you consider objectively how someone was making you feel? Did you consider what emotions you wanted to evoke from the person you were with, the moment you were with them? Did you consider how your inner struggles, your inner demons, may distract you from this understanding, or how the inner demons of others may deter you from it as well? This simple, yet profound, logical chain is the beginning of self-awareness. Understanding the why, and how to bring about the impact you were seeking is the rest of it.

Fourth, kindness is self-preservation. We are one human society. There are no literal barriers that divide us from the next person, only invented ones. The divisions of race, creed, sexuality, religion, ethnicity are all constructs that were made up by a legacy we inherited to help us understand why we are different. The irony is that our only true differences are our experiences. And that is what defines us, not our characteristics, which are merely a part of us. In the end we are all made up of the same things…of beating hearts, of heaving chests, of arms and passion to lift us up, of legs and will to carry us, and of stardust. We are all hurtling together on this pale blue dot through the cosmos. And as far as we know, the cosmos is an infinitely large place, and this small planet we call home is not. Be it in a family unit, a village, a civilization or a human society, we are all in this together. It should not come as a surprise that in every culture we have known the resolve to better ourselves and others have been a constant factor.

All of these elements…behavior, ethics, self-awareness, self-preservation, can be woven together to become one trait…the wisdom to love yourself. Loving yourself is one of the first aspects of being kind, which is something that may take a lifetime to learn. As I wrote yesterday, I believe that most people do not know how to be kind. Considering the depth of the four aspects we only briefly explored I hope you start to understand why.

Until then, stay mindful, my friends.