How can we make practising kindness part of our everyday life? What is kindness anyway?
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, kindness is
the quality of being generous, helpful, and caring about other people, or an act showing this quality
Practising kindness is a central Christian value
Kindness is one of the core attributes of love, according to the Apostle Paul. He wrote,
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.1
Perhaps 5 years earlier he had written to the Galatians about the fruit of the Spirit. What qualities are the hallmark of a follower of Jesus? Of a person who stays in touch with God’s Spirit? Kindness is on the list:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.2
Practising kindness can be simple
Often all it takes to be kind is to go out of our way a little. To ask someone how their day is going. To offer a hot drink. To notice when someone isn’t quite themselves. To donate to a charity.
Practising kindness can be hard, but still simple. To not yell at our kids when we are tired. To get up in the middle of the night without complaint. To spend a day working in a friend’s garden – or a stranger’s garden. (Hopefully with their consent!)
It can cost to be kind – emotionally, physically, and financially. But it can still be clear what kindness looks like. We can reflect on the character of Jesus and the way he frequently paid a price to care for others.
But kindness is not always simple.
Practising kindness can also be complicated
What does it mean to be kind to a narcissist? Or an entitled person? What does kindness look like in messy or toxic relationships? Surely it’s not kind to support or enable their sin!
As a parent, a leader, a mentor, a teacher, or as a friend, it might sometimes be difficult to know what’s kind and what’s not.
We would argue, for example, that drawing healthy boundaries can be an expression of kindness. To challenge unhealthy and destructive behaviours.
As human beings, we are at our best when we integrate the fruit of the Spirit into our habits, our character. When we are loving in the way Paul so beautifully described.
The right boundaries can help people be their best, or at least make their choices and consequences clearer. Letting an abuser continue their abuse, for example, is not an act of kindness either to them or to those affected by their behaviour.
Kindness comes easier with practice
When we habituate making those small, thoughtful acts of kindness, we strengthen our character. Every time we make choices to set aside our self-interest or moods for the sake of another person’s best, we develop those character muscles. It gets easier to make the choice again.
When it comes to the complicated choices, we may have much to learn. But we can develop our wisdom, and courage if necessary. Reading, learning, reflecting, counselling: all these things can help us grow in our willingness and wisdom to be truly kind.