22 January 2014

Kindness for Appearance's Sake

Here are some more "hits & misses" from the more than 7.5 million results to my Google search on kindness quotes, this time with a focus on the unspoken "why" behind kindness.

I'm no expert on anyone's motives, but I do try to examine my own. Sometimes when we want to be "do-gooders" we do more harm than good and our reasons, while not vile, are less than pure.


That Oscar Wilde says this speaks to its truth for me, since he was a man who understood how to command grand attention, which is related to intention. I'll stretch what he says a bit further by saying that the grander the intention, the less actual kindness is involved. That doesn't mean it's bad, but I think it does mean it's not really about kindness. 

Then what IS it about?

Please don't misunderstand: I'm not bad-mouthing niceness! I'd much rather people be nice than not, most of the time. However, it's important to understand the difference in others and in ourselves. Sometimes if you're nice long enough it may turn into genuine kindness; be beware it doesn't turn into empty self-satisfaction. Niceness on its own, you see fails. 

I'll illustrate that with a

This sounds "nice," but I had an all-too-literal experience with this one that fell far below the "nice" bar. For several years the library system paid me to present creative writing workshops. One year, I hosted a group at the same location on the same day and time each month. The goal was to draw a lot of the same people each time so we could get to know each other and each other's writing voice.

At the same time, a friend of mine was studying for her yoga instructor's license. We had talked informally about the benefits of combining yoga and writing. She needed opportunities to practice as an instructor, and I offered one month's session of my repeat group to give it a try. We worked together to plan yoga exercises anyone could do from their chair and writing prompts to complement them; it was fun. When the day came, she showed up with a huge bouquet of roses to dress the sign-in table; how beautiful, I thought! At the end of the workshop, she said they were for me, to say thank-you. Though not necessary, I was touched.

This same person had encouraged me to start a blog to supplement my website. As I got my blog going, conscious of the importance of links, I approached her about each of us listing the other on our blog roll. I had already listed her on mine, and I asked if she would do the same for me. Her response was very odd: She did not reply. At that time I also hosted a forum linked to my website, and I noticed she had joined it, though not contributed. When I didn't hear back about the blog roll, I followed up. She refused to address it, but said, "Well I joined your forum!" The unheard part was, "So what more do you want?" Well, the forum isn't visible in any way to anyone but members. I wanted a visible link, equal to what I'd given.

Yes, I wanted something in return for my link, so I didn't do it out of kindness. But it wasn't selfish either; both of us might benefit from the reciprocity; certainly neither of us had anything to lose. When I offered my workshop as a practice platform for her, it was out of real kindness--perhaps even love. Based on the discussions that followed regarding reciprocal links, it became obvious she gave me the flowers to "pay" me for this gift, so she wouldn't owe me the link I was bound to ask for. She had, in fact, only encouraged me in my blog because she thought it would keep me busy and make me a less-demanding friend because she was too busy to answer my emails, which, as I recall, weren't all that frequent and I never demanded answers to. 

She hoped for the fragrance of the roses she gave to cling to her hands. Instead, it ended our friendship. Sounds silly, I know. Which brings me to another


What we choose to give without hesitation--a kindness--is a treasure we would do well to guard. That means care in how and with whom we share it. I gave without hesitation, but after it all played out I felt some regret at my losses. I did not regret opening the writing session to her--I still do not regret that--but it was hurtful to realize how little substance held the relationship together, and both she and I shared some blame in that. I was disappointed in myself for not seeing it all more clearly, sooner; however, I did learn from it.

This sums it up pretty well...

Why a miss? Kindness may or may not "pay off" for the giver or the receiver. It's a crapshoot. It may be completely rejected, regardless of the purity of the giver's motives. That's not a reason not to do it; just something to keep in mind, because it just as surely ISN'T a reason TO do it. It isn't a kindness if you expect a return of any sort; it's a transaction. And many of our relationships that pretend to be love-based are, in fact, transaction-based; but that's a topic for another blog post.

All that said, practicing kindness, even when it begins in "niceness," can change a person over time. Not that we do it thinking, like Little Jack Horner of nursery rhyme fame, "What a good boy am I!" But in the hope that the repeated process of looking into the other person helps us really see (them and ourselves), respond accordingly and thus evolve.

If we do nothing, most assuredly nothing will change.

I would love to hear your stories, comments, opinions. As always, try to be specific and, most importantly, KIND.