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The underrated value of kindness

In my Saturday column on Lent, this most holy and solemn season of the Church year, I said that perhaps this year – after a year of solemnity which has pretty much felt like a 12-month period of Lenten denial – perhaps we needed to do things differen
The underrated virtue of kindness
The underrated virtue of kindness

The underrated virtue of kindnessIn my Saturday column on Lent, this most holy and solemn season of the Church year, I said that perhaps this year – after a year of solemnity which has pretty much felt like a 12-month period of Lenten denial – perhaps we needed to do things differently this year. I used a term which I have only come to truly value in the past few years, that it was perhaps a season where we should be particularly kind; to ourselves, to one another, and to the earth

Lent is a good time for confession, so perhaps that’s a discipline I should keep and share one of my own. I used to be pretty dismissive of the idea of kindness. When someone would mention to me “that was a kind thing to do,” I would instantly turn on my John Cleese voice, dripping with sarcasm, and say “Oh yes, it was terribly kind, the most kind thing, beautifully, wonderfully, kind…” which normally elicited some kind of eye-rolling from whoever was speaking to me and, usually, an “oh, forget I said anything.” 

To my shame, I thought kindness was a weak, insipid, concept – and trying to be the hard-edged type I wanted nothing to do with it. I was wrong.

Kindness, I have discovered, is a strength. It is something that takes courage, that involves a deep sense of compassion, a hard-edged love that treats others with respect and graciousness, whilst coming from a place of deep commitment to other people, a place of feeling deeply secure in our own identity and unthreatened by how others might perceive us. There are many other words we can use to describe what is contained within kindness: compassion, justice, forgiveness, hope, humility, graciousness, perseverance, dedication, love, and so much more. It takes a deep inner strength to be kind, a willingness to risk ridicule and being dismissed, whilst at the same time being completely committed to the well-being of oneself and of those around us. 

I wish I had understood this earlier. My dismissive posturing did me no favours and didn’t help me in trying to be a better person. It didn’t help me to create a stronger sense of community and care that I now know to be so vital in our shared survival and thriving as human beings. 

Sometimes I did catch a glimpse of what true kindness was, and in those moments I understood – just for a moment. When I saw the dedication of those who worked in the health service, when I saw the self-giving love of people who helped the disadvantaged and the downtrodden, even when I saw the commitment of those who supported friends and loved ones through the most difficult times of their lives. Then I saw kindness, and (however briefly), I got it. 

What I didn’t get was the depth of commitment, the hard work, that goes into seeking to be a genuinely kind person. It takes something that we as human beings are often reluctant to do, a searching look at ourselves and a willingness to change to be better.

In my own experience in Church communities, and in the work I have been privileged to do with the bereaved, with those who are excluded from our everyday society, with those setting out on the journey we call marriage, in social justice work, and social action work, in advocacy and change-making, in seeking to make the world a more equitable and fair place, I have come to see that so many people are deeply, passionately, challengingly kind. They measure what they say and do by running it through what the poet and mystic Rumi called ‘the three gates’ – we are admonished to ask three questions: firstly, “is it true?” Secondly, “is it necessary?” And thirdly, “Is it kind?” If we were to apply those three criteria to all that we said and did then our interactions with one another would be significantly more helpful, and perhaps even transformational. Rumi was talking about those ‘gates’ with regards to speech, but I think it applies to how we act with each other also. 

I have seen this at work in recent discussions within my own community – in sometimes difficult discussions I have been reminded by wise people to go into discussions with one focus in mind: “What is the loving response to this situation? This difficulty? This issue? This person?” Or to continue my thought for today – “what is the kindest way forward? “

I no longer dismiss kindness, because I see and I know just how hard it is to be a genuinely kind person. But I am convinced that kindness can change the world, more than anger, more than violence, more than oppression, more than exclusion. For this Lent, and for always, I hope to become more kind.

The underrated value of kindnessThe Ven. Alastair Singh-McCollum is Rector of St. John the Divine Anglican Church in Victoria and Archdeacon, Diocese of Islands and Inlets. He has a passion for the Gospel, motorbikes and bike culture, worship, philosophy, theology, guitars, single malt whisky, real ale, cinema and all things French. You can find Alastair at the church website: and on his blog:

You can find more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE

Photo by Josue Michel on Unsplash