What is Kindness?

This blog is a joint piece from @Maire_From_NJ and Myself.

Recently I (Pran) tweeted that kindness is a force of oppression. It is not like me to be contentious or controversial at all.  As an educator and activist, I struggle with the idea of kindness in multiples of different settings.

You challenging my actions is unkind. 

As a person of colour, I feel the wrath of racial oppression every day. When I or any other person of colour challenges the action of our oppressors, it is an act of kindness. No matter how uncomfortable it makes anyone feel, this is an act of kindness.

Huh? Pran, that’s not nice.

It may not be nice, but it is kind. I am working on the premise that all people come from a place of morality and that they believe that they are good people. As a good minded person, would you not want to be told about the systemic damage your words and actions (or silence) causes? No matter how the message is delivered, I am sure you would prefer to have the knowledge to make more informed moral decisions.

Yes, there may be an argument to say this challenge should include a degree of civility even a collegiate approach; maybe that is true for allies. Some of us feel that oppression, the physical, mental and emotional abuse. Are people of privilege really expecting them to be measured? When we are propagating the damage which impacts their lives on a day to day basis.

Personally, I’ve been spat at, struck, systemically disadvantaged (this is the worst) and verbally abused. Will I accept critique from those in my shoes? Absolutely. When the analyse comes from people who benefit from those acts through their privilege (as described by Zeus Leonardo). I’m minded to remind people to stay in your lane.

I’m a good person I’m kind to everyone I meet.

When the societal structures are so maligned the act of existence is an act of oppression. Yes, you and I are part of the problem. For me to exist in the global north means that people in the global south are oppressed.

“Huh, but I didn’t do anything”

There are a finite amount of resources in the world, for me to take more than one seven billionth of those resources means that someone else has to have less. 

Usually, when I am on my soapbox or more recently a stage, This is the point that I’m challenged with:

“That’s the meritocracy people work harder get more”.

Well, we know the people who work the hardest don’t receive the most, looking at your schools no one works harder than an NQT or site staff/cleaners. Even if the meritocracy were enacted equitably (I’m not going to rant about bias here head to the equity section for more), are we all okay with people living in abject poverty as a result of people deserving because they work ‘harder’?

Now if your answer to the last question is yes please stop reading.

You have better things to do with your time as do I. 

As we live in a society where the structures are geared one way; Any inaction is an action, being silent or just being kind leaves us all complicit in all of those atrocities. Yes, I am holding us all responsible, yes, that feels not very pleasant. Kindness is not niceness; it’s action.

“I’m kind, I give to charity”

Here I have a floating position, to be honest, all my views are salient maybe liminal is a better word. 

‘But I was only trying to help’

‘I gave up my summer to build a school’

‘My charity work cost me a lot of money’

All of the above statements have come from people believing they are being kind through charity . Although the statements may all be completely true, I would first ask who benefited from those experiences. If you have photographs of you ‘helping’ people of colour and are circulating them across social media, you are propagating the myth that people of colour need white people (intervention) to save them (we can swap race here for any other oppression), this means you are part of the problem, this is not kind.

Is this kindness directed outwards but really is solely based on personal platitudes?

Charity in the form of time or even money without challenging the structures actually exacerbates the problem. It stunts the need for systemic change, and I’d also ask who it serves more, we are all prone to the above saviour trope. 

One without the other is problematic at best.

You’ve seen the tweets:

“Spread Kindness Like Confetti”

 “If you can be anything at all, be kind”. 

Sure, on their surface, those sticky-sweet platitudes feel good. I mean, hell, who doesn’t want to be a kind? But what is happening in society of viral memes and motivational quotes, is that some of us are redefining what it means to actually “be kind”. 

Brene Brown said it best in her book, Dare to Lead, “clear is kind. Unclear is unkind”. When we throw kindness like confetti, we are throwing it on top of unfair systems and practices and not acknowledging systemic cracks in structures that have been unkind to marginalised folx for years. 

For example, when we tell folx to hold bags for the elderly, are we considering why an elderly person would even need to struggle with their grocery bags every day. Is there a delivery service available for this demographic? When we suggest that buying the person’s coffee behind you is an “act of kindness”, do we ever stop and think about poverty, or how some of us are privileged enough to buy a $4 cup of coffee while others can’t even consider it. 

Kindness is lovely, but it shouldn’t it be the bare minimum of where any of us start? Instead of throwing kindness like confetti, let’s have real conversations, hard ones, ones that make us uncomfortable, because when we truly want to look at what it means to be kind. Let’s consider that it has far more to do with the impact on unkind things in this world then simply smiling and holding open a door.

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