I get all kinds of ideas while walking through Target. Things just jump out at me like you wouldn’t believe. Recently it’s been the vast array of ‘kindness’ merch in their dollar section. Cute mugs and cups, napkins and cups all reminding us to be kinder people. The kindness campaign is out in full force.
“Kindness is free, sprinkle that stuff everywhere.”
“Kind people are my kinda people.”
“Be a kind human.”
It’s all very cute and sweet. We should be kind. It’s like the new commandment of our culture… if you can be anything, be kind. I wonder if it’s because we have actually lost so much of our decency toward one another that we now need this reminder. Is it possible to just wake up and sprinkle kindness around?
Sometimes that is possible. There are days when we can take the high road, smile at ourselves in the mirror and just push through with kindness. How about the other 364 days of the year? I don’t have an endless bucket of kindness confetti to throw around, and when someone hurts me, having ‘be kind’ written on my coffee mug isn’t going to help.
We are surrounded by meanness because we are engrained in a culture that actually encourages us to put ourselves first. I cringe when I imagine the things my kids see and hear and never tell me. Hurtful things. Stinging remarks.
“A culture of meanness has cropped up around us. It’s a meanness that is fueled by narcissism, by a wave of cynicism, and an over-appreciation for snark. Meanness and narcissism hold hands. Meanness says , “What I feel matters most. I have no empathy for you. If you are in the way, I will run you over.” Jennifer Dukes Lee
And all the while, we are filling our heads with stuff like this:
Photo: Instagram, Rachel Jankivich
I love this because author Rachel Jankovich adds her own little notes to these garbage sayings to point out how ridiculous it is to be so self-absorbed. (The purple writing is hers.) People who believe they come first will never be ‘kind’ people, no matter how hard they try to throw that confetti around. Narcissism makes us mean. Becoming your own hero makes you a real pain in the you know what. Treading on the feelings of others to make yourself bigger doesn’t make people want to be around you. This is not kindness.
I learned a fancy phrase awhile back when reading about our kindness-obsessed but actually mean culture: cognitive dissonance. Dissonance is the disharmony between two musical notes that don’t go together. When the human mind does it, it’s trying to make two opposing ideas gel together. Like demanding tolerance but never giving it. Preaching niceness while acting anything but nice. You get the picture. It happens when we believe and accept every thought that passes through our heads… things clash.
The thing is… we can’t just go out into the world and be kind. We are too selfish. It’s who we are. If we could do it, the world wouldn’t look like the dumpster fire that it is. Our nature is to serve ourselves first, even as Christians who want to act differently:
“For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. It is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me nothing good dwells. (Romans 7:15-16)
And when we are basking in Instagram posts and freshly-penned self-help books that tell us to seek out our own happiness first?
“For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” (James 3:16)
Kindness is awesome, but it can’t be our starting point. Kindness is a fruit of the spirit along with some other often overlooked goodies like… patience, self-control and faithfulness. Can you imagine a “self-control” or “faithfulness” campaign taking hold? I somehow feel like that merchandise wouldn’t fly off the shelves as fast: “Sprinkle self-control around like confetti!” “Faithful people are my kind of people!” Hmmm…
How do we combat a culture of meanness and narcissism? Not by trying to be kind, but first chasing after holiness: “Be holy as I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15). “He has saved us and called us to a holy life…” (2 Timothy 1:9). We are called and commanded to first be holy – separated – different than the others. From holiness flows all the rest of the wonderful things, like kindness and goodness and self-control. The fruit is the result, not the cause.
Holiness isn’t perfect living, it comes first by being justified through Christ and then by living obediently for the long haul. It’s a life that puts up boundaries when need be, a life that is anchored to something other than feelings, a life that is steady because Jesus makes it so.
So go out and be kind… spread it around… buy the t-shirt… but campaign for holiness. Without it we are at the mercy of the meanies, and one step away from becoming just like them.