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Friday, July 13, 2012

The Kindness Project: Selfish Kindness

The Internet is a very unkind place.

Sure, you can talk all you want about how the writing community or YA community or whatever-the-hell community you belong to is, like, oh my god, so supportive, but that hasn't been my experience. The circle jerk of lick-you-lick-me? That I'm more familiar with.

I guess that's why this post has been so hard to write. (And why it's late, natch.) Right now I can't find it in me to believe that people--not necessarily the people blogging today (er, the day before yesterday) but people in general--really want to be kind to one another.

Years ago, a mommyblogger friend of mine was invited on a mission trip to Cambodia. The idea was that she would go, take a few pictures, write about her experience, raise awareness for the charity. The backlash was enough to make her give up her online presence. That was the first time I'd ever heard the term "poverty tourism".

Not that the concept of people doing kind things for selfish reasons was all that foreign to me. But still. Until then I'd never considered that the people "raising awareness" for these charities really didn't give a hoot about them. For them, it wasn't about the charity or the people supported by the charity. It was about the exposure. It was about--God, I really do hate this word--marketing. Selling something. Promoting themselves.

So I've been struggling. I struggle every time I see someone on Twitter begging for help and not getting it, because they're not important enough to be talked to in open forum. I struggle every time a notice comes in that an RWA contest is short on judges, and see the inevitable response of, "Gee, I'd love to help, but what's in it for me?"

And that's the thing, isn't it? Gee, I'd love to help, but...

Kindness--genuine kindness--isn't always clean or neat or tidy. It won't always fit into your schedule; sometimes it will take your schedule and blow it the fuck up. It won't always leave you feeling good; sometimes it will hollow you out and break you. Kindness is costly. Kindness is exhausting. Kindness tracks dirt in the house.

There was a time in my life when I had far less responsibility than I have today, and I remember thinking I was so busy. Too busy. Too busy to help people, too busy to do things that didn't benefit me. I don't think it's a coincidence that this period of my life was also one of the unhappiest.

I was selfish then. I try to be less selfish now. But I wonder if that's enough. I wonder if it makes a difference. I wonder if I'll always be this angry that there are more people who would rather look the part than be the part.

I don't have any answers yet.

Other Kindness Project Posts:


  1. Oh, Liz. I wish I had the answer too. THIS is so true, "Kindness is costly. Kindness is exhausting. Kindness tracks dirt in the house."

    I think that's what divides the people who really want to help and the people that fake through kindness. I'm not talking any specifics here, just generalities. It is inconvenient. It's easier to be lazy and just think about yourself, but I know, at least for me, that would be my undoing. I can't fake it. When I'm kind, I want people to believe I'm genuine. I don't want the perception of being kind to guide what people think. If that makes sense. I have faith that there are good people out there that want to help, but I'm a crazy optimist. Always been. Which can get me in trouble. But, I'll live in my bubble till someone pops it ;o)

    Great, honest, post <3

  2. "I have faith that there are good people out there that want to help, but I'm a crazy optimist."

    Me too. I live in London and get the free paper every day. Every day they feature a 'Good Deed Feed' where people message in saying thanks to the person who handed my lost bag in, or thanks to the guy who gave me a lift home in the rain - a variety of messages, all the way up to 'thanks to the person who stayed with my husband and waited for the ambulance with him'.

    It warms my heart. I don't know their reasons for doing these good deeds, but some of them must just have been to be kind. There are people out there.

    Here through your RT Erica.

  3. Great, honest, post. You really have me thinking and considering this.

    So true, Kindness tracks dirt in the house, what a great way of putting it, although how sad.
    I am sure there are a lot of people doing good deeds just to get attention/publicity/the same favour returned. Especially where online where profile can sometimes cause some voices to be heard more than others, whatever it's about, although I can never work out why that can be, sometimes, when the message is the same.

    But I have to believe some do it just to be kind. Just because.
    Also, if I am starving and need bread, and someone offers me bread, I am just going to be grateful for the bread, not worry about their motivation, if you follow me, so I hold onto that, too.

    I saw Erica's RT about this, before I saw your post, as I check twitter first, but I do follow your blog, though I hadn't noticed the Kindness Project going on, and wish I had.

    I had the idea, a while ago, for a novel about somebody setting out to be kind, and exploring some of these themes in it and you know what the sad thing is, I worried I didn't have enough of a 'goal' for my MC. Being kind in itself isn't enough of a goal, I worried!

    Great post, thank you. May have to compose a post along these lines myself at some point.

  4. Isn't it funny how the less we give of ourselves the less happy we are. It's like we are some form of subtraction soup (wow Phantom Toll booth reference). So the more happiness we give, the more we have. But the more happiness we keep to ourselves, the less we have.

    You give me things to think about. Thank you.

  5. I always trust you to tell it like it is. I've always seen kindness and charity as ultimately a selfish goal - all of life, actually. We all do things because they make us feel better about being "good people", or because we want to stop feeling guilty, or because they make us look good. There's always an unclean edge to being benign - and that's okay. It's inescapably human.

  6. Carolina Valdez MillerJuly 14, 2012 at 2:28 AM

    i have never felt quite so vulnerable as I do when I am at my kindest. It's the honest to God truth.Every time I've admitted I'm wrong, every time I've said I'm sorry, every time I've faced up to my own wrongdoings, or even harder, when I've reached out to the most broken among us--these are the moments that leave me shaken and muddied up. But it's only when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable that we can feel most deeply. Most human. Most alive. I have to believe that those who remain forever guarded and live only for themselves never truly live. And will never find that kind of happiness that comes without buts and that ever-constant worry that it'll all fall apart any moment.

    I think it's inevitable that some people will ask "what's in it for me?" especially in any setting where you're trying to climb, professionally or socially. And let's face it, to a lot of people kindness is just another aspect of climbing the ladder, putting on a happy face most especially with "important" people. It can all feel so artificial and sometimes is. So Hollywood, isn't it? And there are times where I struggle with my own kindness because damn it, it's really hard to be kind, especially radically kind. And at the end of the day I have no idea if it even makes a difference to anyone. But by difference, I don't mean if it's helping my career, but if anyone really notices or even remembers. But it doesn't matter. Nor does it matter if anyone is being nice to me or anyone else or publicly supporting charities for their own gain. I mean, it does. But if you focus on that, it can prevent you from being the kind of person you wish everyone was. Does that make sense? It's a shame when I see someone turn down doing a kind act because there's "nothing in it for them," but I'd hate even more to see those kind of selfish people turn no-strings-attached-to-kindness people into bitter, angry people. Even if the ratio of selfish people to radically kind people is only a thousand to one, at least there's one for every thousand. And maybe it's naive and stupidly optimistic, but I think that one in a thousand can make a huge difference, even if only in his/her own life.

    Also, I said kind and people a lot in this comment.

  7. Your honesty is compelling and causes me to take a much closer look at myself and my own motives. So thank you for that.

    Sometimes it is so very hard to believe that kindness is out there. But I keep believing...and trying myself.

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