It’s a good thing, right?
I mean, we should all strive to be kind as far as possible – going that extra step to help someone, putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes before making a judgement and generally being nice to one another.
However, there is a danger with telling people to ‘be kind’, and that is when it used to silence people or ask them to ignore bad behaviour.
Should we be using it to stop people from talking about their own experiences in case it upsets someone else? Should we let bad behaviour go unchallenged because calling it out is not being kind and it might make the person being challenged upset?
No, we shouldn’t.
In a recent conversation, some people were talking about how they felt about a particular business. A business that has a history for sweeping important issues under the carpet by deleting pictures and not addressing the problem, or by just not mentioning them at all until prompted by a backlash. Neither of those is good enough for a company that claims to lead the conversation.
In this discussion, people were sharing their own experiences of the company – being ignored by them, being at the end of passive aggression from them, and generally feeling unrepresented by them.
And then, it came: ‘Be kind’. Along with ‘approach them privately’.
No one was being unkind. What the people involved in the discussion were doing were being vocal about their experiences – and about being ignored when they have approached them privately with their issues.
The conversation clearly made people feel uncomfortable, but instead of considering why they felt uncomfortable, they thought ‘be kind’ was an appropriate response. In other words, ‘stop talking about it’.
Whether the person who said that meant it that way, I don’t know. Probably not, but for those who were sharing their issues, being told to ‘be kind’ felt like they were being silenced, that their experiences and thoughts didn’t matter.
We were discussing the Black Lives Matter movement, so talking about people who are constantly silenced, whose voices are ignored all the time, and there it was, right there in the conversation. Why should they have to be kind to a business that isn’t being kind to them by listening to them and representing them? It is an uncomfortable conversation to be having, but one we need to be having nevertheless.
Should we be kind to someone who hurts other people? No.
Being kind when the situation doesn’t require kindness but requires people speaking out, telling some brutally honest truths and generally being a bit gobby about it, allows hypocrisy to go unchallenged, for people to do things that hurt other people without recourse and crime to go unpunished because speaking out sometimes involves being a little unkind to be noticed.
Am I saying we should all be unkind to one another? Absolutely not. The world could do with a little more kindness, especially at the moment. I have taught my children to be kind in most situations, but before you start automatically telling people to ‘be kind’, read the situation, engage with them and take the time to understand it because there is more than likely a reason. Don’t use it to silence an uncomfortable conversation.