All of us, even the most conscious, are sometimes unkind. At our best we count our needs and desires as important as others. But ultimately when we consider ourselves ahead of others, as is necessary sometimes, there is an opportunity to cause pain, however unintended.
There is a difference between intent, indifference and ignorance in our actions. We are cruel if we are so by intent or by indifference. Our motives in these instances are measured by our values. When we are cruel, we lack compassion, respect, honesty, integrity and humility. And, when we are cruel, we glorify false idols. When we act ignorantly, we are unkind…not cruel…and have a chance at redemption.
There is a legend of a samurai who protected a village. Bandits attempted to pillage it but feared the hero’s wrath. Instead they set fire to a nearby bamboo field, hoping to burn out the villagers and the samurai. Instead of chasing and striking down the villains, the samurai raced into the field and cut a long divide of bamboo, stopping the fire from reaching the village. His lethal weapon gave life by preventing death.
When I started Winter of Kindness it never occurred to me a person might resolve to be unkind. A person might be good, wanting good for others, but hold their values in so high regard they are comfortable with causing others hurt if they don’t hold similar standards. Their values…ones that empower kindness and goodness…become a sword that can bring both life and death…help and hurt.
But we do this in so many ways…
We can be unkind when we think we are protecting ourselves…when we focus on the feelings of hurt we have in a moment, and mute all others around us, regardless of their needs or how we may hurt them. We do this out of ignorance, self-preservation, or to cope (introduced in Winter of Kindness entry #33). Or when we are not present in the moment because we feel overwhelmed or controlled (#21). Or when we only do good things because we feel we are forced, and are hardwired by consequences (#28). Or when we seek escape from the things we fear, such as our fear of death, hypothesized in the terror management theory (#8).
We can be unkind when we think we are growing ourselves…when we bulldoze through the day to meet our needs, unaware of how we impact others (introduced in Winter of Kindness entry #35). Or when our span of influence in our social or professional life is broader than what we can see, and decisions we make hurt others, despite trying to serve a greater good (#24). Or when we forget there is a difference between sense of purpose and sense of self (#35).
And we can be unkind when we ignore ourselves…when we let ourselves live in someone else’s shadow (introduced in Winter of Kindness entry #39). Or when we do not know the difference between pain and suffering, and lack the maturity to acknowledge pain happens, spending needless energy to avoid it (#49). Or when we lose our way in the dark forests of our doubts, and lack the tools…the values…to find our way out (#26). Or when we do not know ourselves, and put ourselves in situations that can cause negative exchanges by our limited experiences (#52).
It is ok to be unkind sometimes. When we discover we are, we must take accountability, accept the consequences and forgive ourselves. Hopefully we can learn from it.
But we must be mindful when we resolve to be unkind. Should we make this decision, we must be prepared for the consequences, which may risk aliening others. Be aware of the habits this creates, and the behavior this fosters. We may become disagreeable, or perhaps cold, or perhaps indifferent. And should we become that, we must be prepared for what could happen to us next…
And that is a topic we will explore tomorrow.