Too often, being kind to others is equated with weakness. People talk about being too easy on children when they misbehave, justice leaders are accused of being “soft on crime,” and activists are accused of being “oversensitive.” These perspectives aren’t terribly informed – studies show that harsh punishment do not make children behave better (and corporal punishment/abuse can be extremely damaging), locking criminals up makes them more likely to re-offend, and name-calling activists goes against the wave of social progress. While there is no such thing as being too kind, there is such a thing as being too self-sacrificing, ill-informed, or cowardly. Today’s post explores how these negative qualities are confused with kindness, and how to stop equating them.
Being Kind vs. Being Self-Sacrificing
People often confuse kindness with self-sacrifice – a strange attitude considering how self-serving kindness can be. Studies have shown that spending money on others actually makes you happier than spending it on yourself. So why is kindness so often treated like a sacrifice? Probably because of some common ways that people make sacrifices in the name of kindness.
Kind: Being there for a friend when he is feeling down, by telling him that you care and that you believe in him.
Self-sacrificing: Neglecting your own health and well-being by staying up all night or skipping work or school to spend time with him.
If you feel like you are making major sacrificing in the name of kindness, and that it is causing suffering in your life, it may be time to take a step back and make sure your own needs are being met. However, in most cases, being kind to others will actually benefit you more than it hurts you by giving you something you can feel good about, and will make you a happier person in the long run.
Being Kind vs. Being Ill-informed
Since being kind to others is proven to make you happier, it stands to reason that being compassionate is actually a very logical decision. Not only will being kind make you feel better about yourself, it will also help you improve your relationships with others.
Kind: Taking an empathetic approach to caring for patients in a healthcare setting.
Ill-Informed: Being a “tough boss” in a workplace setting, despite evidence which suggests that this makes a workplace less efficient.
In both of these scenarios, there is data to support that the kinder approach is a more effective way of doing business. This extends to the home, where harsher punishments for children were associated with more conduct problems and self concept deficits.
Being Kind vs. Being Cowardly/Weak
To open your heart and experience empathy for another person means making yourself vulnerable. Vulnerability is frequently confused with weakness, but the truth is that making yourself vulnerable is a very brave act. This could be as simple as sharing a personal story about depression with someone privately to let them know that they are not alone, or it could mean opening up publicly about your experience to help fight the stigma on a larger scale.
Kind: Standing up for a friend or stranger who is bullied.
Cowardly: Standing idly by.
If the thought of performing an act of kindness is making you nervous and you do it anyway, that is an act of bravery and courage.
Check out more of my perspectives on kindness, and as always, thanks for reading!