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Home | Human Flourishing | Flourishing Relationships | Cultivating Kindness
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | November 9, 2022
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | November 9, 2022
Showing kindness to an ever-growing group of people
Political Parties and Kindness
Let me be straight forward with this. Neither political party has a monopoly on kindness. A quick visit to any social media platform and we see polarizing, hateful speech, directed at opposing views from both Democrats and Republicans.
The hate speech directed at Trump, McConnel, and company is not much different than the hate speech directed at Biden, Pelosi and company. The ideology is different but the lack of kindness is equally divided. Each side self-righteously boasts of innate kindness while fervently working to demonize and destroy, cultivating fear and hatred—not kindness.
T. Franklin Murphy wrote, "the complexities of our society work because of cooperation. As long as the majority contributes, the group maintains strength, but if they divide, they weaken and fall" (2016).
Strong societies need political balance with majority nether stingily hoarding resources; or parasitic draining resources from beneath. Strength comes from unilateral contributing to the whole, whether a nation or a marriage. (Csikszentmihalyi, 2018).
"Kindness is a chain reaction. It’s a wave that keeps rolling, and all it needs is one person to start it. One small kind act can cause a ripple effect that impacts an entire community."
What is Cultivating Kindness?
We don't cultivate kindness by being more and more compassionate and caring to smaller and smaller groups of people. We are not kind when we elevate ourselves, claiming to be 'chosen by god,' and then galloping into other regions and slaughtering people to cleanse the earth of their terrible scourge.
Humans have notoriously used 'righteous' objectives to achieve group superiority throughout human history. Pope Gregory IX (c. 1232) established the inquisition, notorious for the use of torture and execution, for the suppression of heresy. The crusades into the holy land that murdered thousands was driven by the Roman Catholic Church against pagans and heretics for alleged religious ends.
Christian churches are not alone in the use of cruelty to establish power; in the name of a righteous cause, many people have suffered. 'Righteous' causes have served as a rallying call to commit violence without guilt, whether it be a police officer, an army, or a political movement. The violence is excused because the victim is removed from our list of kin, and no longer seen as deserving our kindness.
We share this planet with nearly 8 billion other people. Cultivating kindness requires that we expand the number of people we include in our tight circles of kinship. Kimberley Brown, a meditation teacher and author, suggests that "cultivating kindness means opening your heart, with patience and attention, to your painful feelings—and to other peoples’ painful feelings" (2021). In a sense, she is saying our actions have the potential to cause suffering to ourselves and others. We should act with mindfulness of this potential, mitigating suffering whenever possible.
Making Kin Through Unnatural Alliances
In a thoughtful article, Alys Longley compares kindness to water—a liquid body of "microresistances that can carve out routes through rocks" (2021). Perhaps, we overlook the power of kindness to heal our nation and individuals.
Our task is to make kin through means different then natural attractions, occurring through relatedness. This requires tempering our competitive nature that only rewards my desires through me winning and you losing. This is called a zero-sum-game.
Kinship suggests literal relation to each other. Alliance "implies that we are different but related; that we are bound to each other by a treaty, not heredity" (2021). The alliance creates the kinship and along with the Hollies we can sing:
The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where, who knows where
But I'm strong
Strong enough to carry him
He ain't heavy, he's my brother
… So on we go
His welfare is of my concern
No burden is he to bear
We'll get there (Hollies, 1969).
Our alliances create a disjunctive synthesis, which is "a relational mode that does not have similarity or identity as its cause ... but divergence or distance" (2021).
How does this mutual beneficial relationship look, we might ask. Longley refers to an "asymmetric reciprocal implication." This is a meshing of points of view, a reciprocal contamination that leads to an unnatural alliance.
We get so lost in our points of view that we can't see the weaknesses. No political position is all encompassing, benefitting everyone equally. Our personal desires in relationships are one sided, weighted heavily with what benefits us most as an individual. We are blinded by our desired benefits, ignoring the inherent costs to others.
Kindness understands this as Brown stated, kindness considers "other peoples’ painful feelings." This asymmetric reciprocal implication is that these positions of alliance reward all involved parties in their own way. Longley presents the example of the wasp and the orchid to demonstrate such an alliance.
"For the becoming-orchid of the wasp and vice versa, but won't produce a wasp-orchid." The wasp cross pollinates the orchid, and the orchid provides necessary nectar to the wasp. The kinship between the orchid and wasp contributes to propagation and survival of both. It creates an unnatural alliance, giving "rise to kindness, or the sharing and renewals of worlds" (2021).
The point is we need each other. We need to share the bountiful harvest through kindness and consideration. While the concept is a little idealistic, we can do better. We enhance tender feelings for those sharing in the journey of life. We can seek and support leaders that do the same, rejecting those that preach and create divisiveness.
The Internet and Meanness
The internet and its inherent nature of anonymity has generated an environment that thrives on aggression. Mistakes are paraded through public, small errors are treated as devastating character flaws, and cruelty rewarded with millions of followers. These behaviors betray kindness. We deliver a painful swat with our words in exchange for a few social media likes.
We may believe these insulting words don't matter. We don't see into the eyes or hearts of those injured, so we pretend they don't exist. Our harshness does matter. It betrays our kinder natures. Is our kindness just a social measure we express when the other is present and known? When the receiver of our harshness is a non-discernable other, only known by a screen name, are we still kind?
A Few Closing Words by Flourishing Life Society
Certainly, any thinking being can conjure up circumstances where these lessons may not apply. Our work is to find the situations where they do apply, expanding our opportunities to be kind, to a growing group of people, even those that exist outside our normal group of related beings.
We must stop this insanity. We must cultivate kindness, enlarging our groups, establishing alliances, sharing similarities, and forgiving the small errors that plague all of our lives. We need to embrace the concept of 'kindsight.' Kindsight views others in a manner that gently accepts imperfection as part of our human existence (Murphy, 2018).
We can start a new wave of kindness. We can expand our circles, seeping into the endless cracks and holes that our meanness has forged, giving life and hope to the world.
Please support Flourishing Life Society with a social media share or by visiting a link:
Brown, Kimberly (2021). How to Cultivate Kindness When Other People Make You Crazy. Tricycle. Published 7-13-21. Accessed 11-8-2022.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2018). The Evolving Self: A Psychology for the Third Millennium.
Haraway, Donna (2016). Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Experimental Futures). Duke University Press Books; Illustrated edition.
Longley, Alys (2021). Kindness as Water in the University. Knowledge Cultures, 9(3), 184-205.
Murphy, T. Franklin (2018). Kindsight. Flourishing Life Society. Published 6-2018. Accessed 11-8-2022.
Murphy, T. Franklin (2016). Human Kindness. Flourishing Life Society. Published 7-2016. Accessed 11-8-2022.
Willis, E. (2021). Editorial: The Politics and Practices of Kindness. Knowledge Cultures, 9(3), 7-19.