I recently re-read an article in The Atlantic about the science of happy marriages and how a central factor in making a marriage work is kindness.
It’s almost cliche, really. Everywhere you turn, someone’s writing about how we should be kind to one another. The more we hear about it, the less we seem to practice it. Kindness certainly doesn’t seem to be a hallmark of our society these days. Just look at our civil discourse. Not only do many people seem very thin-skinned and offended by anything and everything, others (and often the very same people) are disrespectful and rude. It’s like we can’t seem to find a third way — basic kindness in what we say and do, even when we disagree or even distrust one another.
Maybe it’s because we confuse kindness with being nice. Nice is fine as far as it goes, but that’s just it. Some people don’t seem as nice as others, simply because their temperament or style is not as pleasant or positive. There are also serious things that happen in life and “being nice” doesn’t always allow us to be honest and real.
But it is possible to treat even your worst enemy with kindness. Hard, maybe, but possible. Because kindness isn’t about agreement or approval, or about smiling all the time; it’s about seeing past any differences in one another so as to acknowledge the inherent dignity of the other. No matter someone’s actions or opinions, they are first and foremost a human being. Kindness isn’t a feeling, it’s an actual virtue — an attitude and an action.
In everyday life, kindness includes listening, giving the benefit of the doubt, taking the high road (when the other person is taking the low one), being compassionate, finding common ground, speaking truth in a respectful way, and sometimes just keeping your mouth shut and letting something go. It means patience and courtesy. It means being wise and thoughtful. And it means forgiveness. Kind people forgive.
This week, many of us may be sitting around the Thanksgiving table with family and friends who hold different opinions and perspectives — politically and otherwise. In the aftermath of a contentious election and much ongoing fallout, it’s a perfect time to practice kindness. Gratitude and kindness orbit around each other — the more grateful you are, the easier it is to be kind, and the more kind you are, the easier it is to be grateful. Kindness is actually very simple. Not easy, but simple. Imagine if we could bring more of it to our conversations, our social media posts, and our everyday actions?
Happy Thanksgiving to all of my American readers!
Image: Olia Gozha for unsplash