The Low Cost of Generosity
Something seems to be fleeing quickly out of this world and it saddens me to see it go. With social media, I daily witness examples of the demise of kindness in our daily communications. I think we ought to really call it, “antisocial media,” because it is increasingly devoid of civility. If kindness ever leaves completely, I fear we are doomed. There will be no turning back.
Incivility takes many forms, some subtle, others blatant. Hurling epithets, oppressive name-calling, and the indiscriminate use of profanity are not the only ways to be unkind. Deceit, rumor-mongering, veiled threats, and not-so-righteous indignation all perpetuate a climate of ill will.There is a precedent in the scriptures for the devastating effects of cultural unkindness. The Book of Mormon describes a people that inhabited the land before the Nephites who were utterly obliterated from the face of the earth except for a prophet and their last ruler. They were the Jaredites. Despite all of the pleadings of prophets among them, their various forms of unkindness became the standard culture among them, so much so that they took up arms against each other and fought literally to the last man (Ether 15).
While we are nowhere near that point in modern society, the trend is alarming. Rudeness, profanity, deceitful headlines, threats, destruction of property, and name-calling all mar our political process, the media, and daily life in the public.
During the course of the last election, I took to calling what was billed as “Presidential Debates” as the “Unpresidential Debates”. I’m old enough to have witnessed a few political debates, but never have I seen anything so petulant and childish as what I witnessed as the final two candidates fought it out. Of course, both factions of supporters blamed the other’s candidates, but neither seemed to be able to resist responding unkindly to the unkindness of the other.
These things need to change. I felt no real hope that regardless of which candidate prevailed that he or she would adopt a conciliatory tone and make an effort to bring people together. My fears, so far, have been realized. The animus continues.
If the leaders will not set the example, it is my hope that the rest of us can return to kindness and civility. It is hard to let go of an argument. It feels like a betrayal to lay down a sword when our righteous indignation makes us want to avenge, but there are many benefits to kindness and being kind costs almost nothing. It returns far more than is ever spent on it.
Why not be kind? If we are certain about how right we are, we can afford to be kind. I think this is lost on most people these days. Did you know that if you are easily riled, your enemies will use that to their advantage? Their is no credibility in rudeness.
In some ways, people see rudeness as a sign of uncertainty. I’ve often had someone say to me, “Just because I’m rude doesn’t mean I’m wrong.”
Obviously, I can’t refute that sentiment, but just because you’re rude doesn’t mean you’re right, either. Why not be right and kind at the same time?
Kindness, in a disagreement, has great advantages. It leaves people more open to listening to your rationale. It is less likely to alienate a friend or potential friend. It is more convincing in more permanent ways. As part of your argument, kindness makes it seem like you believe in your principles more than unkindness does. In other words, in an argument, it doesn’t cost much to be kind and the rewards are substantial.
More than just an attitude to adopt in arguments, kindness is the right thing and the affordable thing to adopt as a way of life. Kindness grows out of humility and a willingness to think that we may need to revise our thinking.
I grew up in an era where unkindness towards people of different races, sexes, ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations, socioeconomic groups, and even disabled people was thought of as a virtue. I also grew up in an era when these people were standing up for themselves in unprecedented ways. I never quite understood prejudice, although I knew it was a word that wasn’t flattering.
On my mother’s side, almost everything I heard was out of a form of kindness towards people who are different. I once overheard a conversation between my mother and my aunt about a lesbian couple they knew growing up. Not once did I hear any judgment in the content of their conversation or in their tone.
My grandmother and another aunt spoke of black people as being people like everyone else, just with different colored skins. Even though they clung to some stereotypes, I never once heard anyone in my mother’s family say anything unkind about people who were different.
It was no so on my stepfather’s side. I heard all of the unkind nicknames for people of other races, along with the unfair generalizations about their characters that he had grown up with. Fortunately for me, I was always prone to think that if my stepfather thought something, I should reject it.
My mother believed in kindness. She exhibited it with everyone. It’s not that she never had disagreements. She just chose to express those disagreements with civility, grace, and lighthearted humor. I don’t know how long she was that way, but I remember it always being like that. She shrank from intentionally hurting people’s feelings, and could get along with some of the most disagreeable and different people we ever encountered.
I only heard her speak sharply to one person in my whole life. It was a cruel mother who was verbally abusive to her son. Even after my mother rebuked her, Mom turned to the son and said something kind to him while his mother stared in disbelief. It cost her nothing to be kind like that, but everyone who knew her counted her a friend at her passing.
With 7.4 billing people on the planet, the chances are probably 100% that whatever person you are conversing with at any moment disagees with you about something. What they disagree with could be major or minor, but you are definitely outnumbered all of the time. Even those who love you the most sometimes think you’re an idiot.
So, what are you going to do with these facts? Are you always going to be poised for a fight, or are you going to recognize that you might as well be kind?
In some ways, you really can’t afford unkindness. It is extremely expensive and has few rewards. It will cost you friends and family relationships. You will lose your credibility. People will avoid you. You may be almost always right, but you can feel like you’re right all the way into isolation. How convincing will you be when no one wants to listen to you?
Latter-day Saint children sing a song that says:
I want to be kind to ev’ryone,
For that is right, you see.
So I say to myself, “Remember this:
Kindness begins with me (Children’s Songbook, page 145, words and music by Clara W. McMaster).”
Even if others aren’t kind to you, you can afford to be kind to others. It is the right thing to do. The rewards are great and plentiful. If you’re going to always be right, it’s better to be right with some style.