“There is a kindness that dwells deep down in things; it presides everywhere, often in the places we least expect. The world can be harsh and negative; ut if we remain generous and patient, kindness inevitably reveals itself. Something deep in the human soul seems to depend on the presence of kindess; something instinctive in us expects it, and once we sense it we are able to trust and open ourselves.”
– John O’Donohue, Structures of Kindness from the book Benedictus
There are three words that have been part of my soul for as long as I can remember, instilled in me by values handed down by my family, and fortified by the institutions that formed my education. Yet, they seem to be completely misunderstood by many, or even worse, rejected: kindness, generosity and compassion.
Let’s talk about kindness today. As I often do, my springboard for inspiration is John O’Donohue, and I refer to the quote above. “Something deep in the human soul seems to depend on the presence of kindness”. Be definition, kindness is not interchangeable with generosity, nor does it mean charity, something many fail to understand and overlook. In Spanish we refer to this as bonded or amabilitdad, both words I subscribe to entirely. But in German, there is a whole spectrum of words that can be used for kindness, depending on the situation and relationship between the parties involved, some of which I question (nobody can every fault German for not being precise enough): freundlichkeit, gutherzigkeit, liebenswürdigkeit, herzlichkeit are my favourites of 12 possible translations of kindness. Italian, of course, hits the nail on the head with gentilezza and bonta. There is a gentleness to kindness that transcends friendliness or thoughtfulness, and has the power to save, heal, and motivate.
When we talk about kindness, it refers to being helpful, mindful of other people’s feelings, and being there for the other. There is no giving and receiving involved, and the fundamental notion of kindness is presence. In this day and age when social distancing takes priority over all forms of human communication, many are at a loss on how to be supportive to one another, and what kindness means during a pandemic.
What I have learned in the past four years and has been reinforced during this unfathomable era of social distancing, is that geographic proximity and physical presence are not the alpha and omega of kindness. You can be kind to a person through words, email, texts, video chats – especially to those who are struggling the most during isolation or some form of mental instability. I know from personal experience that the kindness of those who were part of my journey through the darkness kept me alive, gave me the motivation to move forward, and the inspiration to find my authentic self in spite of all the obligations.
Kindness is a two-way street though – and inasmuch as we need to learn to be kind to one another, it is equally imperative that we learn to accept the kindness of others, otherwise the whole act of kindness loses its purpose. This is the part many struggle with the most, accepting the kindness of others without misunderstanding it for intrusion, invasion, arrogance, and possessiveness. The hardest lesson to learn in kindness, but also the most rewarding, is that in being kind, you also affirm acceptance, inclusion, and understanding.
Kindness, however, is not inherent in human beings and must be taught and passed on in schools, within families, among colleagues. We need to keep reminding ourselves and the people around us that kindness is not found among the thousands of followers and likes of social media. Unless we become beacons of kindness and learn to navigate the murky waters of individualism and isolation, kindness as a social value will fade into the oblivion of virtual realities and materialism.