In case you haven’t caught on yet, I’m a huge fan of kindness. I don’t really think that anyone would qualify themselves as “not a fan,” but I just want to make it clear that I believe in kindness the way that I believe in coffee: I wish I could mainline it directly into my bloodstream.
When I was in high school, I took a psych class where we had to make collages describing ourselves, and then we had to try and guess whose collage was whose. Despite being the sole underclassman in a room full of upperclassmen whom I barely knew, my collage was the first one guessed. “It’s obnoxiously optimistic,” the girl next to me explained, “just like you.” Being obnoxiously optimistic, I took that as a compliment. I also took it as a personal challenge, to try and forever maintain the same level of hopeful determination that set 15-year-old me apart from a classroom of older, smarter, and more successful peers.
I wish I could tell you that I have always succeeded in my commitment to be kind. I have not, and the times when I have failed have sometimes been so unbearably ugly that I’m not even certain I’m qualified to write this. To compound my shortcomings, I also know there have been times when I have been unkind and not even been aware of it; when I have thought I am being funny or sarcastic but it merely comes off as cruel; when I have prioritized my need to be right over my need to be gracious; when my notorious impatience bulldozes over other people’s feelings; when my insecurities make me far more petty than I’d like to admit; when I have been tired or hungry or stressed or so wrapped up in my own problems that I forget to care about anything or anyone else. Even as I acknowledge my many, many, mistakes, I know that there will be more. I will not always be kind, despite my idealism and best efforts.
And yet – the moments when I have chosen to be kind have made me realize that kindness is a superpower. Kindness is unstoppable: it can’t be slowed down, worn out, manipulated, or defeated. Kindness has no kryptonite. Kindness often requires sacrifices, but it will always win. Kindness can change the world.
I say this as someone who has been the recipient of extraordinary kindness, more times than I can count, but also as someone who has been given so many undeserving blessings that I have no choice but to try and do some good with my life. “With great blessings comes great responsibility,” to paraphrase Spiderman’s wise Uncle Ben.
Like all superpowers, kindness inspires its witnesses and gives people hope.
I deeply believe that now more than ever, people are craving compassionate, courageous leaders, who are humble enough to ask for help when they fall short. Kindness gives us the ability to be those leaders, to follow those leaders, and to redirect and support each other when we stray from the path. Kindness gives us a chance to choose differently – to be an unusually bright collage in an otherwise bleak world – and every single one of us has the capacity to make that choice.
I wish I could tell you that being kind will make your life easier, or at least make you wealthy; that kindness will cure your disease, bring back the person who left you, and show you exactly what kind of career to pursue. I wish I could guarantee that kindness will always be reciprocated; that no one will ever take advantage of your tender heart; that it will be easy to stay obnoxiously optimistic just so long as you are kind.
But I’d rather tell you the truth.
You will never know the lives your kindness impacts. Maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a random message from someone you forgot you even knew, telling you that you were kind to them over a decade ago and it made a difference. But more likely, you’ll never really know, and I’d like to think that’s because the ripple effects of kindness span far too wide to measure.
You will never realize how kindness shapes your heart. Perhaps, if you pay very close attention, you’ll notice that you start to ask, “what pain has that person known?” instead of “why are they so awful?” and the answers will run deeper than you could ever have imagined.
You will never expect the rewards kindness may bring. Sometimes, it is obvious, like an opportunity offered because your reputation precedes you, but often it is so much more subtle: the unexpected birthday card, the genuine compliment, the ability to go to bed at night at peace with your decisions.
You will never be Wonder Woman or Superman, but you will never regret being kind.
Of course, superheroes still have to fight evil. Kindness doesn’t mean tolerating injustice or not standing up for what’s right because it may hurt someone’s feelings or lead to uncomfortable conversations and confrontations. Kindness, at its heart, is about ethics, virtue, and value; it means doing what is right with no expectation of reward; it means genuinely and wholeheartedly caring about others.
So as much as I’d love to be faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, kindness is the mantle available to me. And it’s probably the superpower my 15-year-old self would have picked anyway.
Our time on this planet is brief, my fellow caped crusaders. So while you’re here, make it super: drink coffee and be kind.