Can’t we all just be a little more kind to people online? And maybe offline too..?
i would say, “Yes, absolutely!” But also, “No!” Well, i mean kinda, but probably not in the way you understand Kindness.
Because often when somebody posts an inspirational or challenging message like this, what they are actually wanting people to be is nice.
And it isn’t super helpful to confuse Kind with Nice.
Your three-year-old kid is reaching for the hot stove. Do you:
[A] Speak gently to him and reason with him about the merits of not touching the stove?
[B] Scream in a way that only dogs can really pick up, “DON’T TOUCH THAT!”?
[C] Dive across the kitchen AB Devilliers style and grab your kid and hand and roll him safely away from the hot plate?
i imagine answer A would be considered the nicest of those answers and also the most potentially unlikely to save your kid from the opportunity to audition for the role of Blisterfinger in the upcoming Bond movie!
B and C are not nice, but they are both kind. In a bigger picture kind of way.
What might seem nice in the immediate may prove to be unkind in the longer run.
Person A says something racially insensitive to person B online. Brett Fish jumps into action and:
[A] Privately messages person A and gently lets them know that what they said was not cool and please to not do that again.
[B] Publicly comments gently that what was said was not cool and please to not do that again.
[C] Challenges the poster more directly publicly and if they refuse to remove their statement or acknowledge the offense caused and take it seriously then serious challenge and/or cleverly chosen gifs ensue.
Let’s note for a moment that i am clearly taking something quite complicated, layered and nuanced and looking at it in quite simplistic terms to hopefully get the main point across. Let’s not get distracted by that – each person and each conversation is different and so tend to be addressed on a person by person or incident by incident basis.
The point is that for Person A, option A or B seem like a Kind response. Definitely a Nice response. As far as person B goes, response A isn’t even a response because they don’t see it or even know it happens; while response B might suggest to them that i have missed the pain caused by the statement completely. Option C for person B might very well be the first time they have ever had someone [and particularly a white person cos we are talking race here] stand up for them publicly… they have grown used to people making the kind of statements person A has made and going unchallenged. So Kindness to them might look like someone refusing to let a racist statement go unchallenged and looking like they really mean it.
Many options for Nice, but when it comes to Kind then things can get a little murky.
Is there a way to respond in such a way that Person A and Person B both feel like Kindness has been extended to them? There often is and that is usually my first intention. But friends of mine like Jacqui Tooke, Julia Moore, Eleanor Fraser and Linda Martindale are typically quite brilliant at finding that balance and keeping things less confrontational.
But there are also many times when the original poster or commenter refuses to respond to gentle and nice and it feels like a slightly more direct and confrontational approach is required. Some people have responded well to that and others have not. But sometimes it does take a bit of an unpleasant moment to open your eyes to the reality and pain of a thing. As i said before, layers upon layers, each person is different.
The Kind of Kindness i am amped for
It might be helpful to disclaim and state here that i am sure i get it wrong from time to time – i do have a pretty large group of people i have asked to hold me accountable [who i respect and consider wise in these areas and switched on to a number of the issues at play] and they are not shy about pointing out to me when i get it wrong and need to retract or apologise or perhaps think differently about something.
It may also be helpful to note that if i get it wrong, i want it to be on the side of those who have been marginalised and pushed to the side and victimised, because they have gone through years, decades and literally centuries of abuse and so if i do make a mistake i am typically more than okay if that mistake lands on the side of those who are privileged in terms of wealth or race or being a male and so on.
But this is the thing, on quite a regular occasion i have people who think i am too harsh towards someone, too judgemental, too calling out, too outspoken on an issue, and they tend to say things like, “You catch more flies with honey, than you do vinegar” which i think might be indicative of the problem, because i am not wanting to end up with a whole lot of flies.
Typically i don’t see those same people speaking out against racism – they speak out about the people speaking out about racism cos it seems unfriendly and unkind and not nice, but the contexts of racism [people having to defecate – that means poo – in the same room they sleep in or risk a few hundred meter walk at night to the communal toilets with all the associated risks, the fact that someone has asked them to change their name because they can’t pronounce it, having your father who works in someone’s garden called ‘Boy!’ and so on] are seldom held up as unfriendly or unkind or not nice.
This is a huge disconnect. And frankly it pisses me off. Because you seem to care more about perceived unkindness to racists than you do about the racism itself. You seem to be more bothered by the challenges to those who live greedy, wasteful lives than you do about the plight of the poor. You come across as more interested in the language, tone and attitude used when dealing with people who hurt people, than you do about the hurt people themselves.
And yes, it is possible to do a Both/And on this most of the time where you care about the perpetrator and the perpetrated, but it should never feel like you care more about the feelings of those who have inflicted than those who have had it inflicted upon.
Because while you are doing your utmost to be nice, you are being severely unkind to those who have been hurt, marginalised, prejudiced against, pushed to the sides and a lot of the time you are not even taking a moment to acknowledge their pain before you are taking notes on the ones who are trying to stand up for them.
And let me be completely honest here, when you jump on with your pious sanctimonious sounding ‘You shouldn’t judge!’ comments in the absence of having visibly done anything yourself to make things better for those who have been hard done by, you come across as completely judgemental yourself.
# Sometimes the best way to be Kind is to focus our attention on the one who has received the least amount of Kindness.
# Sometimes to be Kind to one person, you are going to have to hurt the feelings of another person [and that is okay if it is done in the right way!]
# Sometimes to be kind will look like a daily commitment to a #NotOnOurWatch philosophy that says i refuse to let racism pass in front of me – online or offline – unchallenged, even if i have to get a little loud or shouty or giffy to do so.
# Sometimes being Kind is less about the potential change in the perpetrator [although a change from that is always hoped for and worked towards] and more about seeing the victim, listening to their story, really hearing and trying to understand what it must have been like for them, and resolving to see things play out differently.
Let us not confuse Nice with Kind.
And let us not miss opportunities to call out and challenge and say, “That is not okay!” when the words or actions of another are being deeply Unkind to someone who has lived with Unkindness for most of their life.
But also always consider that in each person glows the spark of the image of God and even the worst of the worst of the worst of people must have gone through some kind of hectic journey to see them end up as the person they are today and so while there may be occasion to get Loud or Speak Strongly or Call People Out or Challenge, let the opening exchange always come from a place of being kind…