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On Kindness, chapter 1: Against Kindness

Chapter 1 of On Kindness, by Adam Phillips and Barbara Taylor, provides an overview of how kindness has been viewed throughout history.

"The pleasure of kindness is that it connects us with others; but the terror of kindness is that it makes us too immediately aware of our own and other people's vulnerabilities....kindness opens us up to the world of other people in ways that we both long for and dread".

Though we feel at our best when we act kindly, and we feel belongingness and safety when we are given kindness, it comes with risk.

Being willing to acknowledge that someone is in need of kindness means being willing to acknowledge and feel what it is like to be in need. However, what if you step up, following the golden rule of treating someone how you'd like to be treated, but are treated badly in return? And what if the floodgates open and more and more things are expected? Or something is asked that you can't provide? We turn away from kindness out of fears of rejection or failure.

Alternatively, asking for kindness brings risk too. There's always the fear of being turned away. Or much worse, laughed at. Admitting that you need something is hard enough. But once you're treated with anything other than kindness when asking for it leaves you much less likely to reach out in the future, leading to turning away, instead of turning towards, others.

These patterns are damaging. We've all felt rejected and we've all rejected others. At some point, refusing to respond with or ask for kindness becomes the norm. The chapter speaks to the particular damage of what children learn about kindness when adults are unkind.

How do you view kindness? Is it something you give regularly and that you seek easily from others? Or must it be earned? Is it a sign of weakness? How is your kindness towards others shaped by how you've been treated, if at all?

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