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The Ethics of Kindness

Kindness Breeds Civility

We’ve heard it many times before. This person is kind. But, what do we mean by kindness and how can we tell if someone is kind? What are the characteristic traits of behavior?

Kindness is generally thought of as the quality of being friendly, considerate and generous. A kind person considers the feelings of others, tries to help them and avoids actions that do harm. Affection, empathy and giving to others are qualities of a kind person.

Kindness is also considered a virtue. It is an excellence of character that drives ethical decisions. People who are kind act that way not for any reward or even recognition but because it is the right way to behave and the way a person wishes others would act towards them. It is the essence of The Golden Rule.

Kind acts include doing favors for others with no expectation of the other returning the favor. Kind people help others in need. An important aspect of kindness is random acts of kindness where a good act is done for another at the spur of the moment. Paying it forward is also a kind act with the hope that those for whom the act is done will return the favor by doing something kind for another person. If everyone paid it forward, society would be a lot kinder and we could bring back civility to society.

John C. Morgan writes that “Kindness has two faces: one inside and the other outside. The inner face of kindness is toward yourself. Being kind toward oneself means accepting your shortcomings and failures as part of the maturing process and encouraging yourself for taking new steps toward being all you want to be. The other face is external. This means accepting others, shortcomings and all, and treating them as you would wish to be treated.

Kindness improves our quality of life in the workplace as well as in the community. It brings people together. Doing good for others feels good. Showing kindness to others is just as rewarding as receiving it from someone else.

Comedian Ellen DeGeneres often speaks to audiences of kindness, saying “be kind to everyone.” Last year at a Dallas Cowboys game she was seen sitting next former President George W. Bush. Some criticized her for it while others were delighted by an action that, hopefully catches on.

Ellen posted online: “In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have. We’re all different, and I think we’ve forgotten that that’s OK that we’re all different.”

Ellen said it best: “Just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be friends with them.” Kindness 2

The divergent views in society are threatening our very way of life. We seem to have lost the ability to speak to each other civilly. We argue; insult others; and sometimes even become involved in the cancel culture, a form of boycott in which an individual (usually a celebrity) who has acted or spoken in a questionable or controversial manner is boycotted.

Kindness and civil behavior go hand in hand. In today’s world, it sometimes seems that each person decides for themselves what is kind; some look at it from a personal perspective and focusing inwardly while other look to be kind to a friend or stranger

Kind people often exhibit certain characteristics such as:  

  • When they ask, “How are you”? they mean it. It’s not just an expression to break the ice.
  • They always have something nice to say about others. If you’re like me, you remember your parents saying: If you don’t have anything nice to say about another person, say nothing.
  • They are willing to step in and help out whenever needed; no questions asked; no favors expected in return.
  • They have a friendly disposition. They are not argumentative or judgmental.
  • They are generally good people; they act kindly because that is the right way to be and characteristic of an ethical person.

Think of your friends and family who are kind. What do they do that makes you feel positive towards them? Try to give thanks when they are kind to encourage more kindness. Most of all, take actions not because they will bring some tangible benefit to yourself; but, instead, to get that warm feeling inside when one person does something nice for another even if not asked to do so. It truly comes from the heart.

Posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on July 14, 2020. You can sign up for our newsletter and learn more about Dr. Mintz’s activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/.