There's A Problem With The 'Be Kind' Narrative
Religion and kindness are the two most common shields I see used to deflect confrontation and excuse biases. It would be nice if the two were mutually inclusive; it would be even better if kindness wasn’t used as a weapon against people who don’t go along with someone or something just to “keep the peace.”
There is a lot of truth in the quote “Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness,” but there are a lot of problems with telling our kids and each other to always be kind without some clarification. Being kind doesn’t mean being a doormat, putting our own needs and values aside for others, and it certainly doesn’t mean always agreeing with others. The goal of kindness shouldn’t be to do what makes everyone happy or at least the most comfortable. Sometimes kindness looks like pissing people off, and that can be the nicest sentiment someone can offer.
The queen of the “be kind” narrative is Ellen DeGeneres. She has built a living on the idea that we should just be kind to one another—though she also has a reputation of being a horrible person to work for—and defended her public persona when called out for sitting next to George W. Bush while watching an NFL game.
As a queer person, I had a hard time with Ellen’s willingness to forget the fact that Bush hasn’t been so kind to the queer community Ellen is also a part of. There was the botched Iraq war tragedy too. She simply ignored any and all pain that Bush has caused so many people. And rather than place his friendship to the test and given us any sign that he has made amends or changes, she said it’s okay to be friends with people who have different beliefs than we do. If we are disagreeing about food or movies, then sure. But I’m not in any hurry to placate a relationship that doesn’t align with my belief in equity, equality, and science.
Kindness is wonderful, and I see thoughtful and selfless acts every day. I actively participate in spreading goodness into the world because I’m a generous and compassionate person. I do my best not to be a jerk, but I also believe honesty and integrity need to come before someone’s fragile feelings.
I can remember sitting in church and watching people march themselves to the altar to reveal their sins, ask for forgiveness, and then settle back into the pew. Most of the congregation knew these people would repeat what their belief in religion had just rinsed their soul clean of, yet no one held these people accountable. Only God can place judgement, right? Fuck that. I sometimes wonder if someone had told my father that he would have a job and a little bit of money if he got off his ass, looked for work, and stopped spending his unemployment money on lottery tickets instead of congratulating him on his humbleness before Christ if he would have tried harder. At the very least, maybe he would have been too embarrassed to pull the same bullshit every Sunday. My father needed accountability and a reality check. He didn’t need the kindness of strangers and the generosity of the Holy Spirit.
You know who else didn’t deserve kindness? My abuser. Yet for years I was told to sit next to the person who sexually abused me because the least I could do was be civil and not make a scene at holiday dinners or church. Heaven forbid if someone has to experience the consequences of their words and actions. Why the fuck should I, or anyone else, have to mince words when so often there is right and wrong, not simply good or bad, kind or mean? These may be extreme examples for some of you, but it applies to politics, parenting groups, the PTO, youth sports, friend and family circles, and the workplace.
It’s patronizing to assume someone should just smile and bite their tongue in order to be kind. Sorry you don’t have the conviction to or wherewithal to make waves or challenge someone, Pam. Sitting on your throne of clichés and privilege looks like complacency.
There’s no such thing as low-key bigotry, harmless conspiracy theories, or funny sexism and misogyny. You don’t need to call someone a flaming asshole, but you can and should speak up when people are hurting you or others. We need to fight pseudoscience and dangerous mistruths with actual science and facts. Being kind doesn’t mean being a doormat or sacrificing pieces of ourselves. And being kind is never the way to go if it gives up our consent. Consent doesn’t apply only to sex.
Too often people say yes because they worry that it would be mean to say no. Practice your no, people. No, I can’t make brownies for the bake sale. No, I don’t want to promote your MLM of the month. No, I don’t want to hang out with Karen. No, I don’t agree that all lives matter and we should just live and let live. Say it calmly or really loud if you need to, but never feel bad for not putting yourself first. And never feel like a bad person because you decided not to take anyone’s bullshit.
I’m a good person, and I’m deliberate with my words even when I know they may upset someone. I’m kind but lead with integrity, and that means my truth hurts others sometimes. This isn’t because I’m a selfish jerk; it’s because I know who I am and don’t bend to others in the name of being kind. I also know that the kindest thing to do is to shine a light on injustices, excuses, and myths rather than slinking around in the shadows of forced smiles and pleasantries.
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