We often think about kindness as being nice – generous, friendly, accommodating, considerate, complimentary, etc. We think kindness is an orientation toward others that makes them feel warm and fuzzy, unthreatened.
I think we’ve got it wrong. Generosity, compassion, etc. are of course often part of being kind, perhaps often even essential to it. But I don’t think they are what defines kindness.
To me, kind-ness, at its deepest level, is an orientation toward others where you treat them as if they were your kind. To be kind to a stranger is to, at least for a brief moment, treat them with the care and attention you would a dear friend. To be kind is to expand the circle of those you hold as your own, to expand your circle of relations. To be kind is to identify your self in others, to attach your own well-being to theirs.
But there’s the rub; truly treating someone as if they were your own kin often requires much more than a smile and friendly tone. In fact, often such a sheen of niceness is a barrier to true connection and relationship, a facade with which to disconnect. True kindness often requires deep listening, speaking hard truths, being vulnerable, sacrificing.
Ultimately, I think this kind of kindness is what the world really needs. Not being nice. Not love per se in the sense of kumbaya circles or big, bold proclamations from the mountaintops. What we really need is to treat all humans as if they were our own kind. Not just our families or fans of the same football team or our own countries or our own anything. Everyone.
For me that thought is scary. It is so much easier to be the Peter that is accommodating, smiley, accommodating, polite, and then goes on about my day. That is easy. What is hard is truly, genuinely caring for others as if they were my own kind.