Tuning Up - Winter 2022

On Kindness

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Almost everybody wants to be thought of as kind, if only as a strategy

By Edward Hoagland | December 1, 2021
Ian Rutherford/Alamy
Ian Rutherford/Alamy

Kindness is kinship, and like humor is expansive. An arm over the shoulder, a voice in one’s ear. Overlapping sensibilities make us feel good and can correct for misperceptions. Empathy then seeps into our calculation. We feel better, as though we may have banked some credit, some wiggle room for the future. Wealth of a sort. Bigheartedness wins over pettiness. Heartburn declines. But kindness can be fleeting, whereas compassion implies a deeper level of understanding, befitting commitment. We wish to be kind. Like generosity, kindness recalls the Golden Rule. One hand washes another, so nobody loses. And from kindergarten on, we were taught to be nice—a squishier word, less forthright than kind. To be kind involves paying attention, thinking ahead, maybe toward needs the other person hasn’t recognized herself.

Kindness is more than politesse. It’s limber and versatile, imaginative, because the other person may not be just like you, but want something different. And yet time-told universals are involved, such as our love for children. Opportunities to open one’s heart are everywhere. Take an old person by the elbow. Or noticing somebody who is gazing about vacantly, chewing on his lip, you could smile, point upward, and say, “God gave us a good one today, didn’t he?”

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