Tuesday, August 30, 2011

In Which We Discuss the Cost of Kindness, or Its Lack

What is the cost of kindness?

In my job I wonder if I am meant to be kind. The Clientele we serve have the Right to courteous, respectful, efficient, and fair service, and as a deliverer of service, it becomes my role to fulfill these expectations. Yet, none of those traits involves kindness.

At least once a day, a client will remark on what they perceive to be my “kindness.” For my own part I do not consider my actions or words deserving of the adjective. I fulfill my role to the best of my ability, to the fullest extent I am able. I do this with empathy, clarity, and patience. I seek to communicate in ways that the client will understand and am careful to ask whether s/he has questions about any of our discussion or the service. Is this kindness?

Dictionary.com provides one definition here:

1    [kahynd]
adjective, -er, -est.
1.  of a good or benevolent nature or disposition, as a person: a kind and loving person.
2.  having, showing, or proceeding from benevolence: kind words.
3.  indulgent, considerate, or helpful; humane (often followed by to ): to be kind to animals.
4.  mild; gentle; clement: kind weather.
5.  British Dialect . loving; affectionate.

By all these definitions, ought not a worker aim to incorporate this into service delivery and client interaction? Why would we not be friendly, charitable? Why would we not have the aim to do good?

Why is it rare enough to remark upon?

I am, perhaps, not giving it a fair stage, given my work place, or perhaps it is all too appropriate. Where should kindness be but in the places that need it most?

When one becomes part of a group, an organization, the ability to ask this question and form a coherent answer decreases, or seems less accessible. Our ability to take personal responsibility is subverted by the influence of the Larger. Even in public service, our collective goal is targeted towards management—damage control—and when you are told or have come to think all you can do is put a bandage over a wound that refuses to heal, you believe it, and when you believe it, your actions mimic your beliefs. Instead of healing, you place bandages and know in your heart that is all you can do.

What role does kindness have in the world then? How can it fit into your life when you are not being kind, when honesty has no place? When you do people no favours and instead apply temporary stops, never treating the wounds?

In work, I am not meant to be kind. This is not a goal of the organization, and we, as workers, are not so self-aware as to take kindness into ourselves and into our work. How do we do good in the world when we do not know we are able?

Kindness is always appropriate. Given its scope, the degrees to which you show kindness or are kind are without limit. Yet with kindness comes vulnerability. More often than I care to remark, I encounter people who try to take advantage of that kindness, misinterpreting it as an invitation to walk on the giver, or push their own agenda. These people are so out of touch with kindness that they sense it as an advantage, a means of exploitation—a weakness. In many cases these people do not respond to a gentle approach and instead will push until they find the resistance they expect, the harshness to which they are accustomed. Failing this, they will grow frustrated with the lack of reaction elicited by their behavior and leave.

Not every person will respond to kindness. Kindness will not solve all problems, but by acting to bring good into the world, one may at least lessen the potential for unwanted incidences or further meanness. This takes conscious effort and discipline; it is personal and one cannot expect it to be echoed in other areas, or readily supported. Kindness finds a balance between firmness and kindness, empathy and responsibility.

But am I meant to be kind? Is it appropriate in my line of work where kindness is the exception? Are public service and kindness exclusive?

Kindness belongs in both one’s personal lives and the world at large. At home and at work.

To do good. Tikkun olam: healing the world.

In your daily interactions, is this anywhere near your mind? Do you ask yourself what you bring to life?  My husband has heard me ask this, of myself and of him, on numerous occasions.



Now ask yourself: what are you adding to the world?

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