The other day I was speaking with a friend who was depressed because of a perceived lack of virtues. According to her, she was less intelligent, less beautiful and less ambitious than her peers, and -- to add to the woe -- she'd accomplished less, too. Because of this perceived lack of these things society values so much, she felt convinced of her worthlessness, puzzled as to why I (or her many other friends) was attracted to her at all. After very little thought, I spit out the answer immediately: She is kind.
That prompted another thought: Given the immense value kindness obviously has for our friendship, it is interesting how so much of what society heaps praise on -- industry, thrift, rationality divorced from feeling -- ignores or even undermines kindness. Of course, a trait like ambition need not necessarily subsume kindness, yet too often, it does, and society as a whole seems to prefer this outcome to the latter. We praise people all the time for their intelligence, but seldom for their kindness.
Why is that?
It seems to me that of all the above values -- accomplishment, beauty, intelligence, ambition -- the one we need most is kindness. Empathy. The ability to forgive imperfection in others because of an acknowledgment of our own imperfection.
What I'm trying to say, I guess, is simply this: in modern America -- a country filled with so much simmering racial and economic strife, where shootings dominate the headlines so often, and where the comments sections of articles on websites often turn into vitriolic cesspools --kindness is a much-needed, yet all too rare trait.
I, myself am aware of a kindness deficit in my own character. And that is why in a few days, when and if I make my New Year's resolutions, I will be sure to add "kindness" to the list of virtues to aim for in 2014.
I hope you will, too.