I’ve seen “it” on Facebook and Instagram. On t-shirts, tote bags, water bottles, and travel mugs. Sayings like “choose kindness,” “spread kindness,” and “be kind” are everywhere — and for good reason. These sentiments echo love and empathy. They are full of compassion, affection, thoughtfulness, and grace. But the concept that kindness is always possible, while idyllic, is flawed. It is faulty, through and through. Because some people do not deserve your decency or courtesy, your respect or support.
Let me explain.
I am a strong, powerful woman. I work to support my family and myself, penning dozens of articles each week. I bust my ass from dawn until (well after) dusk. I am also a queer woman, a proud member of the LGBTQ community. And while I love the person I am — the woman that I have become — not everyone feels the same. Some individuals dislike me because of my gender, because I identify as female. Some judge me because of my political affiliation; I am a Democrat, one who supports progressive policies and leans (very much) to the left. And some judge me because of my sexual orientation. Because of who — and how — I love.
But I can take judgement. I can take name calling, shame, and “blame.” What I cannot support, or get behind, are the individuals actively fighting to oppress me. The people who vote for governors, senators, congressmen and women who jeopardize my livelihood, who would love to see me, and others like me, stripped of our rights.
Now I know what you’re thinking: That’s silly. I should engage them. Educate them. Share my story and my plight. That, or I should “kill ‘em with kindness.” I could shower them with niceties and love. But should I? Should I spend my emotional energy loving someone who hates me, who believes my very lifestyle makes me unworthy of humanity, courtesy, and decency? Of rights and respect? Maybe, but I don’t — and I won’t. Instead, I fight ignorance and intolerance. I don’t make lemonade with sexist, racist, and/or homophobic lemons.
“Teaching kindness is a staple of elementary practice, but that isn’t the same as teaching justice,” an article on Learning for Justice explains. “[While] educators, particularly elementary educators like me, are good at talking and teaching about kindness — it’s at the core of elementary pedagogy, after all… when being considerate, nice and friendly is all children learn about how to treat one another, we risk losing something fundamental.”
“When we teach about love, acceptance and kindness without addressing this inequity,” the article adds, “we gloss over crucial differences in the ways our students experience the world.”
Perpetual niceness and/or kindness can also negatively affect your mental health.
“If you’re always the nice guy, if it’s your 24/7 public persona, there are often psychological dangers lurking below that friendly surface, a downside that can take its toll,” an article on Psychology Today explains. Self-criticism, for example, is common. “What goes a long way to being nice is that you’re more likely to blame yourself than anyone else: It’s your fault, you should have known better, you did something that caused the other person to act the way they did, though you really have no idea what that may be. You have this critical, scolding drill-sergeant/parent voice coming at you all the time, looking over your shoulder, wagging its finger.” Burnout is more likely to occur, and those who are overly kind often stay in unhealthy relationships.
“Rather than clearly stating what you want at the start of a discussion with someone, you instead anticipate or assume what the other person would like, and then downshift your own demands before the conversation starts,” Psychology Today explains. “Between the pre-compromise and internalization, you never say what you truly want and feel, you’re not being really honest and emotionally intimate.”
So what can you do? What should you do instead? Well, you can broach conversations with “unkind” people the way I do: with firmness and transparency. Discussions can and should be fact-based. You can disengage entirely. Not everyone deserves your exertion or energy. Sometimes, this is best thing to do is to step back. You can establish boundaries. Being kind doesn’t mean being a doormat. Goodness and grace shouldn’t take precedence over your mental health, and you should leave toxic friendships and relationships, ones which leave you feeling unheard, uncared for, and unfulfilled. Because, as the saying goes, respect is earned, not given — and the same goes for kindness, too. Don’t set yourself on fire to keep other people warm.