It’s clear to those of us who use social media that we live in a world saturated by memes and inspirational quotes. The topic I see pop up the most is: kindness. It seems that there are countless variations of the ‘be kind’ meme. We hit the ‘like’ button, charged with the judgment that everyone should be kinder (because we have felt the barbs of unkindness) but are we taking the time to consider our own words and actions? When I ‘like’ these memes, I know I’m judging others more than I’m judging myself.



What does being kind look like, exactly? The obvious themes are: having goodwill, not ill will, being gentle, not violent, being considerate, not selfish, speaking words of love, not hatred, helping, not harming. But then there’s a gulf between kindness and unkindness that is filled with words and actions that don’t definitively belong on one side or the other. Being kind, while at the same time respecting yourself, is one scenario that hangs in this hazy space.



I probably seem kindest when I’m meek and mild (like a mouse). In these mousy moments, I don’t openly take issue with the hurtful words or behaviours of others, but this quiet manner often equates to the practice of subjugation. By subjugation, I mean submitting to others in order to avoid unpleasant consequences. In the past, I’ve let people cross boundaries because I felt that pushing them back would equate to being unkind. But whatever kindness costs, I’m learning that it should never cost a personal boundary.



In a recent instance, when I took a justified stand for my value, I was barraged with a torrent of vitriol. Although I had pushed back as politely as possible, it provoked an entirely negative reaction from the other person. I was unfairly slammed as being unkind.



I was lead by this experience to wonder, ‘How does being kind fit in the same frame as self-worth?’ No matter what angle I look at kindness, I have to admit that it always contains respect – the quality that allows both kindness and self-worth to exist in the same space. If I can’t show respect for another person when I make a stand, then silence has to be the next best thing. Sometimes silence is kindest – for the other person as well as yourself.



Rubbish. We have to lay down our ego, among other things we hold dear, to be kind. Sometimes it takes a lot of effort. And sometimes a kind response means taking a hit for the wellbeing of the other person, but it should never equate to subjugation. In a century when kindness is valued above all, I fear that the quietest people are subjugating too much.



Perhaps the truest test of kindness is whether we act lovingly toward those who we feel little or no respect. It’s easy to be kind in the face of kindness, but it’s hard to be kind in the face of unkindness.

If you’re anything like me, people test my capacity for kindness regularly so there are many opportunities to practice getting it right. This week, I challenge you to pay attention when you’re hitting the like button on a kindness meme and consider how well you’ve shown kindness recently. Then identify one way you can be kinder in the coming weeks and see it through with action. If you’re treated unkindly, be kind to yourself and take a polite stand for your self-worth.


Jodie How
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