A while ago, I found myself speaking with a friend who was depressed because of a perceived lack of virtues. According to her, she was less intelligent, less beautiful and less ambitious than her peers, and—to add to the woe—she’d accomplished less, too. Because of this perceived lack of items society grants too much worth to, she was convinced of her worthlessness and wondered why her many friends, including me, felt attracted to her at all. After very little thought, I spit out an answer: She’s kind.
That prompted another thought. Given the immense value kindness obviously has for our friendship, it’s interesting how so much of what society heaps praise on—industry, thrift, rationality divorced from feeling—ignores or even undermines kindness. Of course, a trait like ambition needn’t subsume kindness. And yet, too often it does, and society seems to prefer this outcome to the latter. We praise people all the time for their intelligence, their drive, their diligence—but seldom for their kindness.
Why is that?
It seems to me that of all the above values—accomplishment, beauty, intelligence, ambition—the medicine our society most needs is kindness. Empathy. The ability to forgive imperfection in others because of an acknowledgment of our own.
In a country filled with such bitter and simmering cultural, racial and economic strife, where shootings too-often dominate the headlines, where the comments sections of online news pieces too-often resemble cesspools of bigotry and hate —kindness couldn’t be more valuable.
I’m all-too-aware of a kindness deficit in my own character. That’s why, when I write my New Year’s resolutions, I’ll be sure to add kindness to the list of virtues to aim for in 2018.
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