Kindness is the beginning and the end of my religion and yet “why can’t we just be nice” and “why can’t we just treat people decently” sort of of get on my nerves, honestly. Most days I can take them in the spirit in which they’re meant, but…
It’s the “just”. Just be a good person. Just be kind. As if that isn’t actually a massive effort.
Kindness and niceness and compassion and consideration mean fighting with your basest instincts, with the anger and anxiety and fear that have kept us as a species alive for millions of years. It means being able to understand how other people see the world and how our actions affect that, which takes a massive cognitive effort. And not just people in general; we have to understand that different people will see different things as kindness. To be genuinely kind all the time, you have to mentally model the interior states of everyone you meet. That is an ENORMOUS expenditure of mental and emotional labour.
And then you have to perform kindness. Kindness is getting off the couch when someone comes in staggering under the weight of groceries. Kindness is not laughing when a child shows you something they’re proud of. Kindness is not lashing out at the person who just thoughtlessly hurt you. Kindness is not giving the curt answer.
Empathy takes work. Kindness takes energy. These aren’t just no-cost solutions.
And if we don’t talk about how kindness is difficult, we can’t talk about how to change circumstances so other people have more time and energy and freedom and space to be kinder too. We can’t talk about the systems that make people dehumanize each other, the poverty and scarcity that lead to helplessness and isolation and cruelty. We can’t fix things.
And if kindness is the beginning and end of your religion, well… that makes it kind of hard to do the thing you set out to do.
Jack of Many Trades
Originally posted: 2019-07-24