What is “kindness”

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and the topic is “Kindness”.

In one online community I hang out in the question has been asked: “What does kindness mean to you?”

I thought my answer was worth posting here in public. So…

I exist in geeky tech spaces where kindness is often far too lacking.

Opinions abound. Pragmatism, spectrums of opinion, and nuance in debate is rare. Right/wrong dichotomies abound, and discussion can be heartless.

Kindness to me is acceptance that I don’t know everything; that the opinions of others are valid even if they are different to mine; that asking questions is better than stating opinions; that the person I’m talking with or thinking about is a person with feelings just like me, and that I should treat them as I would want myself to be treated. Yes, this is ancient and Biblical, but for me it defines kindness!

I also once heard this seemingly-bizarre thing about “cows looking at cars” that has had a profound impact on me. I probably remember it because the picture it conjures is so odd and yet so meaningful.

This is from a monologue about what “love” (the non-romantic kind) is:

So when you’re walking around in the world you see lots of people. But you don’t really see them. They’re just objects. They are functions. You’re like a cow looking at cars. You know, a cow looks at a car. They watch it. But nothing’s going on. When you drive past a cow [in Ireland] it looks up, it watches, but there’s nothing going on inside. And then it goes back to eating. That’s how we treat people in daily life.

But when you love somebody, some individual comes out of that background and you see them in their subjectivity. You see them as an individual.

There’s this notion that I can look at a person as an object without soul, without mind, without feelings, thoughts or a “spirit” of the person. If I see them like that I can justify all sorts of bad behaviour.

If I stop and think that that person is a person like me: an individual; something more than a functional mass of atoms. Then, regardless of our differences of opinion, I find I have no choice but to consider my actions carefully and be kind.

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