I’ve lost track of the number of journalists, DJs and other commentators urging us all to be “kind” during the COVID-19 lockdown and lesser Alert levels. It seems that kindness will not only get us through the pandemic, but through whatever else the future may hold.
We all know how good and important kindness is. Its value is especially apparent to people who experience its opposite (malice) or even just its absence (indifference).
Receiving a little kindness can make an enormous difference to a day that is otherwise bleak (or worse). People who are acutely aware of this include people whose work involves frequent interaction with members of the public – such as workers on the retail frontline, who serve a hundred or more people a day, many of whom don’t bestow a civil word or even eye-contact. A little kindness has a way of disturbing the ambient greyness and blandness of the day with colour and sweetness.
So, I have nothing to say against kindness: I’m all for it. However, I do object to urgings that speak of kindness as though it is all we need.
Kindness is the short form of “lovingkindness”, which is how it used to be referred to. This is presumably because kindness is an element of love. This is an old association that runs deep in our culture: we are all familiar with a particular passage from the New Testament that begins with “Love is patient and kind” and that is commonly used at both church and secular weddings. The passage reads as follows:
Love is patient and kind; love is never jealous; love is not boastful or conceited, it is never rude and never seeks its own advantage, it does not take offence or store up grievances. Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but finds its joy in the truth. It is always ready to make allowances, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes. Love never comes to an end.
Although most familiar at weddings, this passage was not written for married couples. It was part of a letter written to the early Christian community of Corinth and is concerned with loving behaviour in the community context. It fills out the word “love” as used in “Love your neighbour …”.
The passage reveals that there is a great deal more to loving your neighbour (and your spouse, of course) than just being kind to them.
Kindness – and, I suppose, patience and being “ready to make allowances” – represent what might be called the nurturing side of love. Along with qualities like empathy, compassion, inclusiveness – which the proponents of kindness have been urging on us for years now, as though these qualities were the sum total of morality.
I have some objections to this exclusive focus on kindness (or nurture generally):
- Nurture is not enough.
- The exclusive focus is dangerous.
- The message is not even sincere.
Nurture is not enough
Nurture is only a part of a working ethic based on love. Its focus is quite narrow.
In fact, some of the other ingredients of love are quite unlike kindness and nurture: for example, endurance (plain hard work) and valuing the truth (which can sometimes seem unkind). All just as necessary as kindness – indeed, all just as loving.
To speak of kindness as all-sufficient is like inviting some people over for a 3-course dinner and setting the table only with dessert bowls. The table isn’t “set” for dinner – no matter how elegant those dessert bowls are. It is not fit for purpose, any more than an ethos that is “set” only with kindness (or nurture in general).
These nurturing virtues are the sweets and dessert of morality. They are not a balanced diet that will sustain life. Like the elegant dessert bowls, they leave a gap – in fact, an enormous gap, almost the entire dining table.
Those moral moderns (the “woke”, or whatever they call themselves after another fortnight or so) who urge only kindness and other sweets don’t appear to have heard of “tough love”. Nor of the constraint of doing right (rather than “rejoice at wrongdoing”); nor of integrity, even though some truths can be painful and seem unkind; nor of endurance, which is critical because, after all, serious love is for the long haul.
Nurture alone is dangerous
On its own – unaccompanied by the other ingredients of love – nurture can actually be dangerous.
We are warned by our culture’s wisdom that you can “kill with kindness”. Consider parents who can only say Yes to their child and the disastrous impact this has on the child who is, in effect, trained to be entitled. Consider how much worse it is when teachers have to indulge students in the same way. This pampering and indulgence create narcissistic entitlement and unrealistic expectations: today, we see its product all around us.
Too much nurture is bad for you. Being held too tight can stunt growth. Some embraces smother.
All good things can “toxify”. We know masculinity can, for example, when an over-reliance on physical strength (a good thing, when properly managed) can lead to brutish domestic tyranny. And I suggest anything else can toxify, too, even nurture: consider the perverted and lethal nurture involved in Munchausen by Proxy.
So telling people just to “Be kind” is both silly and dangerous.
If the message must focus on kindness, it should be “Be kind when kindness is what love calls for. In the present situation of upheaval and uncertainty due to COVID-19, kindness may be called for more often than usual”.
It could be said in defence of the moderns that this is all they mean by “Be kind” – that they are just being succinct instead.
This claim on their behalf might be believable if their ethos included the range of loving qualities that are necessary for life, but it doesn’t: their moral itinerary is very limited.
I don’t just mean their broadcast itinerary, I’m also talking about their behaviour. Our woke role models routinely behave in a way that is the very opposite of loving.
“joy in the truth”: Integrity is nowhere to be seen in the new moral order; it is not even mentioned. Instead, we see untruth, selective truth, bias, blatant inconsistency (“Believe the science” for some issues, “Ignore the science” for others), the silencing of many who wish to speak truth and falsely accusing those people of hatred. This is all dishonest. It is the opposite of love, and therefore morally wrong.
“love is not boastful or conceited”: The popular pastime of virtue signalling is pure bragging and narcissistic posturing – the new self-righteousness. The opposite of love, and morally wrong.
“love does not take offence”: We see the woke taking offence so eagerly that they often exaggerate or even manufacture the offence (untruthful) or presumptuously take offence on behalf of others (untruthful and boastful). And some encourage others to take offence instead of helping them recover from their hurt (unkind). Again, morally wrong.
As it turns out, though, work behaviour even lacks the qualities of nurture, especially kindness. Consider:
- the degree of control and muzzling that we see and experience;
- the treatment of people who hold “wrong opinions” – falsely accusing them of hatred; directing hatred at them; punishing them unjustly, for no wrongdoing, including by extra-judicial trials online;
- the selective focus of nurture on certain victim groups, and the pointed ignoring of others;
- the perverted nurture of the groups selected – by keeping their pain stirred up – eerily resembling Munhausen by Proxy;
- the use of sympathy and blame to divide society, setting groups against each other.
Unkind, therefore unloving, and therefore morally wrong.
Another aspect of nurture – patience – also seems to be missing from the woke moral itinerary. It is clear that the moral and cultural revolution is in a headlong rush, quite willing to ride roughshod over any idea, opinion, person or group that gets in its way.
All this is the opposite of love, and much of it is even the opposite of kindness. This leads me to conclude that, when they say “Be kind”, they don’t even mean it.
Why this insincere sermonising about kindness? Consider:
- it maintains the sermonisers’ moral ascendancy and social control; and
- it takes our focus away from those aspects of love that make us stronger, and perhaps a little less easy to control.
So, while kindness (or nurture generally) is necessary and wonderful, it is nowhere near enough; and, on its own, it’s dangerous. Preaching it as an ethos is just soft-sell. And the failure of its preachers to practise it (along with the rest of love) reveals their deep insincerity, and should make us curious about their actual agenda.