I’ve been thinking a lot about kindness.
Collectively speaking, we are so, so good about acknowledging the necessity of kindness.
We talk about it everywhere – on social media, on bumper stickers, on t-shirts, in commercials. We teach it to our children, first at home and then at school.
But the follow-through is rarely what we claim it’s gonna be. And that’s a problem we don’t talk about… or maybe even see. We paint this pretty picture, like this common, simple message: “You never know what someone’s going through.”
And then we throw it on some artwork, add some color, make it pop!
And it’s the truth… but man, it’s flimsy. Sweet and easy. So it’s no wonder it’s forgotten, left unused in our back pockets, when we really, truly need it.
Because the hard things? They’re not pretty. They’re not colorful or sweet. The REAL things people go through are usually dirty, or messy, or wild. They are ALWAYS complicated. They might be ugly or obscene. There’s a stench and there’s a story… but we turn and walk away.
That leaves a man sobbing over his story… but on the inside, all alone. Then there’s this woman, always quiet. But maybe all her energy goes to stifling screams of pain. She smiles politely, asks how you’re doing. But when you answer, all she hears inside are the bellows of her heart. Or perhaps they’re cries of grief. Or of loneliness or despair. Maybe on the inside, she feels shattered, stabbed, or crushed. It’s a defense mechanism for the broken and the scarred to insist on looking flawless. They’ve got it all together.
Who wants to show their messes when they know about the judgment?
Or maybe we can see that something’s wrong, but it’s more than we can handle… because they haven’t bathed for weeks, we think, or maybe even longer. Or maybe they’re drunk and making a scene. Or maybe it’s simply that all around town, they’ve always been labeled “strange.”
There are countless names and labels we kind people give away.
So what happened?
There is so much goodness inside us. Our compassion is inherent… it’s a part of our design. But it’s been buried and it’s been beaten. Bullied out of us, even. I think mostly, it’s been manipulated by these baffling societal values and norms that teach us why it’s best to be self-centered. Just look out for number one, you know? Since no one else will do it.
But that’s not how we were made. We were meant to care for each other. I would argue that our first instinct is connection, not survival. We’ve just pushed so hard against it.
So this brand we’ve created? The kindness brand? It can’t be all she wrote. There is more for us to do.
It’s not enough to wear the t-shirts. It’s not enough to post the quotes. Compassion, especially if it doesn’t come naturally anymore, requires our demand for higher standards. It takes a personal commitment to bettering ourselves, along with the agreement that we’ll hold each other accountable. It’s a choice we make to look beneath the things we’re trained to see.
It’s a deliberate decision to SEE other humans. Sometimes, being seen is the first step toward the healing. But then, even better, we can start to feel their pain. The co-suffering kind of compassion is the kind to change the world.
So we have to push past the niceties. We can’t just hang up pretty art. It’s not a time to take the rose-lined path, it’s a time to sift through garbage. It’s in that heap where someone is buried, someone is hungry, someone’s alone.
We need to remember that people are fragile. They’re precious. And maybe they’re already cracking. We need to know we’re not the only ones who scream or cry in silence.
We need to see people. And love people. And be willing to suffer beside them. And we need to do it now before too many lose their hope.
Just something to think about.