Kindness is the new black, in theory.
It’s a popular idea found on the internet, break room bulletin boards all over the country, tiny signs for your kitchen at Hobby Lobby, and classroom wall posters held tight with sticky putty.
But what is it? If Love is kind, how do I get it into my life? Buying coffee for the person behind me in line is a start, but how do I harness all the kindness to explode into my family, around my dinner table, and when I open my mouth to tell my husband what I really think of his recent attempt to pick up his ever-lovin’ clothes off the bathroom floor?
Kindness can easily be defined as being nice. Just be nice, but what is that even?
I searched high and low to understand this for myself. I like kindness. I want more of it, in my life and in the world. I saw a poster once which said, “Kindness is free. Sprinkle that stuff everywhere.” Yes! Everywhere we need more of it! More of what?
For God, kindness is related to grace. That means it’s a free gift, the inverse of earning something. If kindness is related to grace, this also means I am more likely to need to delve into my kindness pot when someone is a jerk rather than when someone is being kind themselves.
Ouch. Being kind to the jerks is definitely not what I had in mind. I wanted to be kind to my son’s teacher, to my co-worker, to my husband, to the guy behind me in the checkout. Internally, if I’m honest, I want to be kind to people who are pretty easy for me to love. And then I want them to be kind back. I like when kindness begets kindness, but grace tells me that kindness may beget nothing, and I need to be okay with that.
Kindness, this little letter to an ancient group of people named the Corinthians tell us, is forged from love. True love and true kindness come from God. God is different from us. He loves without failing, which means He offers kindness without failing as well.
Real kindness just is; it doesn’t expect.
Love is kind, when it’s hard to love. Love is kind, when it’s even hard to be nice.
How do we get there?
Step one: A whole lot of Jesus, who was and is kind to me when I’m ugly and nasty.
Step two: Defining Kindness
Kindness = awareness + warmth + value placement
All three of these components are pieces of the puzzle. I can be aware of someone and still be hurtful. I can deeply value someone and fail to be kind. I can be a warm person, always inviting, but without an internal radar of the value of every member of humankind I will still push off those who make very different choices from me. I can also have the knowledge of the value of people and be so wrapped up in my own little world that kindness never extends, but stays somewhere inside of me.
Who is around you? Who is around you in your neighborhood? Who is around you in your family? Who is around you at the gas station? When we see people, we take the first step toward kindness. When I am aware my child is standing there, when I bend down to look into their eyes, when I am aware of the person in traffic next to me, an actual person, not the vague idea of other people, it’s harder to ignore, avoid, or railroad over them. In my awareness, I have stepped toward kind.
Warmth takes another two steps. Warmth says, I don’t mind your existence on this planet; there is room for both of us here. Warmth also doesn’t avoid or ignore or railroad, but it goes further to invite. Warmth is one person leaving space for another person’s world and story to collide with their own, if only for thirty seconds. Introvert or extrovert or somewhere in between, warmth takes some energy, and that’s what we often don’t want to part with. Warmth is love filling us up, God and those closest to us bringing love into all our organs, all our muscles, all our bones, and then that red hot fullness seeping out because bodies weren’t meant to hold all the love and kindness in.
Value placement sounds like math and I don’t like math, so let’s compare it to living room decorating instead. I have an item, it’s beautiful. It’s so beautiful I want to give it a really great spot in my living room so that everyone who walks by sees this thing of beauty in my home. I could value it just the same but put it on the top shelf of my closet and no one would see it. Placement shows the world I love this item. We can value people, and should value people far more than our great-grandmother’s quilt handed down for generations. If we never put that value onto them through words and actions, it doesn’t make them less valuable, but they will never know the value we hold for them. Kindness places value. It transfers my ideas of your value, my parent’s value, my friend’s value, the postman’s value and brings it bravely forward for you to see it.
It’s a risk, kindness is, because it’s real relationship.
Kindness = awareness + warmth + value placement
Let’s live more equations boldly today.
Love is kind.
Are my eyes closed? Do I have blinders on? Am I paying attention? Am I seeing the people God has placed in my life? I love that in Heidi’s equation for kindness she starts with awareness, because it reminds me to pay attention! Look and see the people who are there in my everyday life: my wife, my kids, my church, my community. Then it’s an invitation to see them as God sees them: created in His image, loved and valuable. All three parts are needed to round out the equation, but awareness definitely resonates with me. We need more kindness in the world, and it can start with us.