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Ryan Fan

Kindness Is The Most Important Thing

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Ryan Fan
Ryan Fan

For some reason, I feel like this is something controversial to say in this day and age. But even in these contentious and polarizing times, kindness is the most important thing. I don’t mean to spread my beliefs to others, but I don’t assess someone’s characters by their politics or their religion. I don’t think someone believing the exact same thing I do makes them a good person.

Rather, how someone treats the other people in their day to day interactions says the most about them. Even today, it’s more important to be kind than right. It always is, and it always will be. I have been thinking on long runs about how kindness has felt like a lost value, in the midst of a global pandemic where we’re taught to distrust the people around us for public health concerns, in the midst of especially polarizing politics where we other anyone who thinks differently than us, where we see them as labels before human beings. I originally became a Christian because of the kindness I saw how some involved in the ministry treat others in day-to-day interactions. And I want to reclaim part of the kindness I had before the pandemic.

I will always remember the days I didn’t deserve kindness, but people extended it to me anyway. These people who extended conversation, greetings, or genuinely were interested in how I was when I was painfully shy, or befriended and spent time with me when I was a complete liability made me feel not only like I, too, deserved to be here, but that I mattered.

I often don’t give when I’m at intersections with homeless people anymore. And I feel guilty, but I also feel like I have become a less generous person during the pandemic. But I will always keep coming back to the people who extended me kindness when I didn’t deserve it — when “deservedness” becomes part of the equation for whether to treat someone kindly or not, kindness loses its luster.

Can you change the whole world just by being kind? No, not really. But you can change your world just by being kind. I don’t judge other people’s character often — but I judge my own character. According to Dr. Karyn Hall on Psychology Today, kindness can strengthen our relationships and life satisfaction. While much of society emphasizes a Darwinian survival of the fittest battle for survival, Charles Darwin himself argued we are all a very social and caring species, and that care is instinctual for human beings.

Kindness is the key to happy relationships. Perhaps it’s naive to still think everyone is a good person, especially when we’re incentivized not to believe it.

As a teacher, I hear so much bad advice about how to treat kids. Put your foot down. Don’t smile until December. Don’t give an inch or they’ll take it a mile. You can’t be nice to kids. Don’t try to be their friend. They don’t have to like you — they have to respect you. If that respect comes in the form of fear, that’s even better.

Nowhere in the laundry list of classroom management advice does “give grace,” “be compassionate,” and “be kind” ever figure into the equation. I never set out to be a mean teacher. But I have been in circles with other teachers where whether you’re a “good teacher” is determined by your ability to put your foot done and have your students walk like they’re in an assembly line. And when those metrics become your goals in becoming a “good teacher,” even if that’s just the perception of others, you’ll inevitably adopt some practices you believe you need for survival. I am not a parent, but many parents have talked to me that very similar advice is used in some parenting circles.

I know a lot of people who say they’d love to treat everyone with unconditional kindness, that they would love to be nicer. But the rebuttal often goes like this: we live in a fallen world where we need to survive. This is not fairy-tale land. People will take advantage of your kindness, and the cutthroat nature of the world makes it so we do what we have to do to get by. We developed protective mechanisms to protect us against the people who hurt us and take advantage of us.

I know there’s a large part of me that has developed those protective mechanisms. I don’t mean for this piece to sound like a holier than thou, preachy “I’m better than you because I know the value of kindness” piece. No — I’m writing to myself as much as anyone else. I, too, have been hurt. I, too, have had my kindness taken advantage of and manipulated.

But for me, kindness needs to take priority again because it’s not good for me to be distrustful, skeptical, and cynical. Sure, the rose-colored glasses I once saw the world through has evaporated. I like myself more when I’m kind. Yes, science says kindness is great for relationships and life satisfaction (if that weren’t obvious), but kindness is the most important thing especially now, especially when we’ve grown to be more distrustful and cynical, especially when I feel like a part of myself has lost the kindness faith requires.

While the world seems to run on outrage and judgment, maybe, just maybe, we can do with a little more kindness.

Photo by Matthias Pens on Unsplash

Originally published on April 30, 2021, on Publishous.