Love Letters to Humans (no. 7) – on Being Kind (Not Nice)

We are relational beings; we will not become better people merely through personal development. We do not become extraordinary by striving to be better than each other. We are extraordinary when we learn and practice being better to and with each other.

Question everything & be kind.*

*Some notes on what kindness is and is not, inspired by a conversation with Margo Stebbing:

I don’t believe being kind looks or sounds a particular way, but if it did, nice would not be it. Nice withholds the truth and contorts itself in order to uphold the status quo and protect the comfort of those who already hold the most power. Nice doesn’t rock the boat. Nice is… nice. Nice eats away at our boundaries and integrity. We say yes when we wish we had said no. We say nothing when we witness harm or abuses of power. We suffer, and we allow others to suffer, because nice is safe. (The safety of being nice is not an inherently bad thing—it protects our reputations from people calling us not nice (which is sometimes necessary to keep a much-needed job or to keep us from being physically threatened), it spares us from being tone-policed, and in the worst moments might even save our lives. Being nice is a basic survival skill when we have limited social, political, or financial power. I have zero judgment for what the targeted and unprotected do to stay alive and safe in this world.)

Kindness, on the other hand, is personal and relational power. Kindness doesn’t care about our reputations or the fragility of our egos; it is concerned with our character, our integrity, our boundaries, and the ecosystems (emotional, physical, political, spiritual) that we share. Kindness doesn’t serve comfort or the status quo; it serves balance and justice and love. Kindness isn’t about a feeling in the moment; it is very much about the result. For example, call-outs, call-ins, and truth-telling don’t always feel nice, but they are acts of kindness. Interrupting harm, knocking an oppressor or abuser off their pedestal of grandiosity (and disconnection) and returning them to their humanity is ultimately an act of profound kindness and service, however awful it might feel to them in the moment.

Kindness often does feel nice, but nice is not a requirement. When you have to choose between the two, take care to know the difference and know where your real power lies.

“Nice is nasty. Kind is clean.” – Ariana Emunah Felix

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