Those who complain about the hostile society we live in should know that the solution is simple: err on the side of kindness.
I’ve been thinking about kindness lately. Or, to be more accurate, the conspicuous lack of kindness in our quick-to-judge, me-me-me culture.
Kindness is simple. But it’s hard to find a prevalence of that sort of behavior in the broader social interactions we observe or, worse, are part of. As a result, society feels fractured, combative, and accusatory.
Perhaps we should blame the political leaders of this country for setting a poor tone. Everyone knows the culture of a place flows directly from the style of leadership exemplified by the top dogs. And the performance of our leaders, in both government and opposition, is nothing short of shameful. The bickering, the constant one-upmanship and undermining, and the manufactured outrage is somewhat diabolical. Kindness, it would seem, has no place in politics. And yet, really, is it that hard to treat people the way you would like to be treated? Listening with respect, adopting a learning mindset, embracing a willingness to collaborate? I would suggest they are the principles of a functional democracy.
Perhaps it is the rise of social media? Has social media allowed us to normalize an unkindness that we would be shocked to witness on the street? The Internet, while hosting some shining examples to the contrary, can be a hotbed of human ugliness. Not only the “haters-gonna-hate” vitriol that runs rampant in the comments, but the other stuff. The constant criticism, the personal attacks, the jokes based on other people’s flaws, mistakes, fears, or misjudged Tweets. We so often jump on the bandwagon and share things that are unkind or hurtful, whether in righteous indignation or for a laugh or to reinforce our own bias, without giving a thought about the consequences of our actions on other people’s lives. The pitchfork mentality is alive and well in the 21st century and you don’t even have to turn up to the barn anymore. We are immersed in a culture of outrage where we mask unkindness as holding people to account. And when it does matter, when our outrage could be harnessed for something useful (climate change, anyone?), we disengage.
Also on The Big Smoke
- Altruism: Giving to others in aid of one’s self
- It’s a question of etiquette – Is there still a place for it?
- Society progresses via acts of senseless kindness
- Noblesse oblige: Embrace the elite (…within reason)
- Selfless acts in a world gone mad
There seems to be a distinct absence of kindness in day-to-day interactions too – on the train, at work, in the schoolyard. There are examples of blatant unkindness, but more often there is just the absence of kindness. So much so, that when acts of kindness occur, they are worthy of a song and dance. Wouldn’t it be nicer to live in a society where kindness was just part of the culture? The norm, the expectation, rather than the exception?
I am guilty of not being kind. Kindness requires awareness. It requires engagement. I think so many of us are caught up in our fast-paced worlds, locked into our screens or on our own dreams and fears, that we forget to look up and out. To look people in the eye and smile. To offer our seats to pregnant ladies. To ask if someone is okay or if there is something you can do to help someone who is clearly struggling. We are put off, I think, by potential rejection or perhaps more often by discomfort. Or maybe it is just a lack of willingness to engage with real people in the real world?
Kindness requires a peering out from behind our walls and engaging with others. It requires action that emanates from empathy – from a willingness to see and listen and connect with others. Perhaps it even requires a little vulnerability to be actively kind. Have we lost that ability in our individualized, electronically-connected world or did we ever have it?
I think it is the nature of our interactions with the people around us that weave the fabric of our society. We don’t have control over so many things that are constantly in our viewfinder. From Donald Trump to global terrorism – they fill us with terror for the future, make us suspicious and closed. But we do have control over how we treat people. If we can be kinder to people in all the worlds in which we operate – from the comments we make online to the way we engage with our family and friends and even our fellow commuters on our weekday train – then we do our bit to make the world, our society, that bit nicer to be in. Ghandi once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world”. (Or at least he said this).
And it’s that simple, isn’t it? If you want to live in a less hostile society, we have to be less hostile ourselves. We have to be kinder. It’s not that hard. It’s just a choice.