Being Kind Labeling someone kind or mean misses impedes growth.
Heinrich Himmler in his pathological and diabolical mind firmly believed himself to be compassionate. How can people not recognize blatant characteristics about themselves? How does the average person recognizing personal unkindness, when a person directly involved in countless murders can dismiss blatant evidence of individual cruelty? Most people—whether they are or not—claim to be kind. Very few acknowledge characteristic meanness. We may accept occasional aggression but such acts are justified, right? When we think of mean people, we assume they are mean for the simple sake of being mean; but when it’s personal, we are kind with occasional outburst of retaliatory anger, reasonable neglect, or appropriate aggression. We’re not mean.
Labeling someone, or our self, as kind or mean misses the point and impedes progress. We all have streaks of kindness and meanness. Instead of determining whether we are kind or mean, we should examine individual acts for kindness—or meanness. We all can add a few more kind behaviors and subtract a few of the mean behaviors. An unkind act doesn’t deserve personal condemnation, just a little scrutiny, followed by a gentle transformation.
Self-interest motivates behavior. When we improve our lives, we feel good. Living beings are driven to survive, and this requires considerable self-interested behavior—eating, developing supportive relationships, and providing for the future. Self-interest is natural. Complex associations create a wide variety of experiences that are pleasurable. We seek security, social acceptance, and meaning. In the process of obtaining personal pleasure, we often neglect or even harm others. A mindful look at personal behaviors fulfilling self-interests but interfering with the comfort of others reveals areas in need of adjustment.
Discovering personal selfishness clashes with beliefs of personal possession of characteristic kindness, “I’m kind but am acting selfish.” This is conflicting, depletes energy, and we prefer to justify the selfishness, soothing the ego, rather than addressing an unkind behavior. Inner conflicts create discomfort; and we move to resolve the discomfort. It is beyond the scope of this post to examine the many ways that we placate inner-discomforts. We justify, blame, dodge responsibility, and deny blatant evidence to escape the conflict, freeing us from re-evaluating beliefs and improving character.
Kindness and compassion aren’t perfected. These qualities—when developed—not only expand personal growth but joins in the positive evolution of the world. By recognizing individual acts lacking kindness, we can constructively address the actions without damaging personal conceptions of characteristic kindness. We’re not mean, we’re just human; but we can improve. Until we detect unkind acts, we can’t improve. Usually guilt and seeking forgiveness isn’t needed, just the gentle transformation of compassionate consideration more than before, adding to our depth as a person, and connecting us to the world around us.