Dive 3: What is Fear-Driven Kindness? And why it’s bad for you.
Hey, it’s Alvin.
Be kind. After all, when we’re kind, we avoid harming others, right? Well… not exactly. With the help of psychology, we’ll dive Below the Surface into Fear-Driven Kindness. We’ll see how it stifles your growth, impairs your relationships, and harms everyone in the long run. The good news: there’s Courage-Driven Kindness, which leads to a happier, healthier life.
Let’s start with a viral story I found online about kindness. See what lessons you can extract from the story, then I’ll share my own:
One evening my mother made dinner after a hard day’s work. She put a plate of eggs, salad and burnt toast in front of my father. I immediately noticed, the burnt toast …. And, I was waiting to see if he was going to complain about it, but my father started to eat them, smiling and asked me how I spent my day at school.
My mom apologized to my dad for the burnt toast. I will never forget his response to her: “Honey, I love burnt toast!”
Later when I went to bed and my dad came over to kiss me goodnight, I asked him if he really liked the burnt toast?
He hugged me and said, “Your mother has had a difficult day and she is really tired. She went out of her way to prepare this meal for us, why blame her and hurt her.
Burnt toast never hurt anyone; but words can be very painful! “
We have to know how to appreciate what others do for us, even if it’s not perfect, because it’s the intention to do well that counts, and no one is perfect.”
So, there are, at least, two obvious lessons from the story:
Words can hurt
We must learn to appreciate others
In fact, they’re so important, the author stated them outright in the last two sentences. Most readers seem to get the superficial lesson: be kind. Below the Surface, it shows us why we want to live our lives driven by courage, not fear. Not reckless courage, but courage driven by principles, so we align our courageous acts with our values. There’s a subtle difference between not wanting to step on people’s toes and fearing stepping on people’s toes.
For example, why didn’t the father tell the mother, “I appreciate you preparing the meal for us”? Given he told his child about appreciation, it’s ironic he didn’t express it to his wife. Think about it: he could have been honest about his feeling of appreciation towards his wife but lied about liking burnt toast instead.
In the real world, there are people so afraid of hurting another’s feelings, they’ll do almost anything to avoid it—including lying. And between honesty and lying, honesty is harder because it exposes who you really are. It leaves you vulnerable. So being honest takes courage. Lying is easier, so it’s easy to default to it. Lying is even easier when there are no obvious consequences for it.
Honesty takes courage. Lying is easier.
The problem, here, is a general lack of courage that means: an unwillingness to hurt others, but it also means: an unwillingness to do the right thing. It’s the same source of fear. In the father’s case, it translates to a lack of courage to be vulnerable and, therefore, honest about his appreciation for the meal. His kindness was driven by fear, not courage. Yet, vulnerability is necessary for deeper relationships. Psychologist, Karen Young, says it best:
“When we close down our vulnerability we are shielded from hurt, but we are also shielded from love, intimacy and connection. They come to us through the same door. When we close it to one, we close it to all.”
A fear-driven life will also stunt your growth. I’m a software developer. I get feedback on my code, and give feedback on my teammates’ code, every day. It’s how we prevent bugs. They’re also ways for my teammates and I to learn what we’re doing right and wrong, so we can grow—as developers, as professionals, and as people. If we stop ourselves from giving feedback out of fear we might hurt others, we’re only hurting them and ourselves in the long run. We’re stunting their growth, but we’re also stunting ours because we’re not practicing tact—a skill of giving feedback without hurting others.
You can’t grow if you fear mistakes
Sure, burnt toast is benign if you ignore the long-term risk of cancer from consuming extra carbon. But what if the mother smoked cigarettes after a hard day? Would it be as benign for the father to say, “honey, I love second-hand smoke”?
To be fair, the father seems aware he lacks tact, and he’s trying to preserve the mother’s feelings. A more reasonable response would have been, “it’s fine honey.” Because a good way to avoid blame and pain is to focus on the product (the toast) when giving feedback rather than on the person.
Focus feedback on the product, not the person
When we live with courage, our kindness will be driven by courage, too. We open ourselves up, which leaves us vulnerable, but allows the kindness of others to reach us on a deeper level. We can’t open ourselves up to love without also opening ourselves up to pain. But openness is how we form deeper connections with others, and it’s how we grow as individuals.
I hope you enjoyed this dive Below the Surface of kindness—both, fear-driven kindness, and courage-driven kindness. Reply to firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions or comments. Let me know how you think about kindness. I’d love to hear from you.
Thank you for reading. Have a wonderful day. And I’ll see you in the next one.