It has always been a core part of my business to help men find kindness in their lives. But coming to really understand feeling this can prove very difficult for men. As a result I am often asked this straightforward question – what does kindness actually mean in practise?
Kindness as defined by mainstream media is closely related to pity. They say we are kind when we make a donation to a worthy cause or help out by texting small amounts to relief agencies. While there is certainly a value in this it is not necessarily kind. At its worst this can be merely a convenience for dealing with guilt.
To be kind means allowing yourself to be empathic – to know the pain and suffering that other people go through as fundamentally the same as your own. It means feeling the connection between yourself and others. But if this seems too much to ask then there are other ways to start your journey towards kindness. You might begin by looking at your assumptions.
It has long been established by psychologists and neuroscientists that we do not see other people as much as we like to think. Our perceptions are fundamentally underpinned by the assumptions we make about others. What makes this particularly powerful is that we are unaware of how these assumptions operate. We have learnt them over time. The combination of habit and the rush of daily life mean that we rarely step back and see how our assumptions are merely a useful shorthand and not a real insight into what’s actually going on with someone else.
The power of assumptions comes across most clearly when we argue. As we engage in heated debate we hold onto our positions with an increasingly emotional force. Emotion prevents us from seeing reason and our assumptions turn the opposition into a caricature of themselves.
Kindness can consist in stepping back from the other and deliberately taking up a different position. How much have your assumptions about yourself and the other steered the debate into dangerous territory. Do your assumptions aid you or do they reduce your capacity for experience? Step further back: how did these assumptions start anyway? Are they based on fact or on someone else’s assumptions?
Kindness can reside in a standing apart from all your assumptions. Realising that all our perceptions are shaped this way can, at the very least, introduce a useful pause in our rush to judgement and usher in a little kindness.