Kindness is a core value of mine. I’m not always successful, but I aim to be kind in all of my interactions with myself and others.
But for years, I did it all wrong. In my mind, kindness meant being soft, pleasant, agreeable. Kindness was about acting in a way so that people liked me and they thought I liked them, whether that was true or not. That kept me safe and comfortable, all while patting myself on the back for being kind, a “nice guy.”
This isn’t kindness. This is niceness. This is the easy way out, the way that helps no one and avoids all the real work that needs to be done.
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I’m learning that kindness is something different entirely. Kindness is taking the time and effort to actually see someone fully in their complexity and messiness and to act with genuine concern for them, to serve them.
It can be soft. It can be pleasant. It often is. But it can also be, and often must be, fierce, fiery, powerful, messy, ugly.
It is a kindness to give someone “tough love,” to set boundaries that keep them accountable to their higher aspirations. It is a kindness to tell someone in direct terms what they cannot see, if they’ve asked for feedback. It’s a kindness to destroy something that itself is destructive.
Kindness is no excuse to just be agreeable and go the easy route all the time. Quite the opposite. Often being truly kind is being the loudest, most unpleasant, least agreeable motherfucker in the room. Being truly kind is about making service to others more important than being liked.
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Photo: Jessica Weiller