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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Thrower

Kindness – ‘a cardinal virtue’

Updated: Jun 1, 2023


Kindness can be defined as ‘a type of behaviour marked by acts of generosity, consideration, rendering assistance or concern for others, without expecting praise or reward in return.’ [1] There is an intrinsically altruistic aspect to kindness. Harry Benson, in a very personal account of the topic, writes:


‘The opposite of kindness is thoughtlessness, not cruelty. Being kind is about putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes and seeing things from their point of view. It’s about being interested and thoughtful and not imposing yourself… Kindness is everything. It shows thought, consideration, care. It shows you notice and you value. Being kind is an active decision that requires some sort of action.’ [2]


How easy it is to be thoughtless rather than thoughtful! Being thoughtful requires a deliberate effort. Mark Sanborn writes that thoughtful people:


‘are those who pay attention to the people around them, reflect on the situation, and then choose to react and act in a purposeful and loving way. It takes a bit more consideration and time than just being nice.’ [3]


The Mental Health Foundation extols the value of kindness for mental health:


‘We know from the research that kindness and our mental health are deeply connected. The research shows that kindness is an antidote to isolation and creates a sense of belonging. It helps reduce stress, brings a fresh perspective and deepens friendships. Kindness to ourselves can prevent shame from corroding our sense of identity and help boost our self-esteem. Kindness can even improve feelings of confidence and optimism.’ [4]


The Christian apostle Paul lists kindness as one of the nine traits considered to be the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ in Galatians 5:22 (NIV):


‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.’


We can not only act kindly towards others, but we can also enjoy receiving kindness that is shown to us. Kind acts can often encourage others to act kindly in turn, creating a virtuous spiral upwards.


As the closing prayer in Lectio 365 has it:


‘Father, help me to live this day to the full, being true to you in every way. Jesus help me to give myself away to others, being kind to everyone I meet. Spirit, help me to love the lost, proclaiming Christ in all I say and do. Amen.’


I’ll leave the last word to Alain de Botton: ‘Kindness is a cardinal virtue awaiting our renewed, unconflicted appreciation.’ [5]


References

2. Benson, Harry, ‘The importance of kindness’, Sorted Magazine (2023).

3. Mark Sanborn, 'Six things you can do to become a more thoughtful person’, available via marksanborn.com (2020).

5. de Botton, Alain and the School of Life, The School of Life: An emotional education (Penguin, 2019).


Terry Martin is a trustee of the Southampton charity Carawaycelebrating the wisdom and richness of old age.

 

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