The Official Website of Kendel Christensen

                I was sent an email this morning about how we need to be “more loving and caring” to our friends and family. It contained the above quote by Maya Angelou as well as a gushing story about a high school teacher that let a struggling student be excused from the final exam and project in his class. Hooray for him! What a hero! How kind! How caring!

I about screamed.

This is what our society labels as kindness and caring? Passing a student simply because “they’re going through a rough time?”

You can learn a lot about a society from the “truisms” and platitudes it tends to repeat, and I’ve heard this one so often it seems to be on a special pedestal.
I wonder, why don’t we have a truism that says “Humbly consider what people say, improve in any given way, and throw the rest away” or something like that? Nope. Instead, the gateway of what makes a good person is “how they feel as a result of what you said.” Was it true? Was it helpful? Was it hard to hear, but ultimately the best thing for them in the long-run? Doesn’t matter. They felt bad = you are bad.

On a related note: People still wonder how someone like Trump got elected. He has clear flaws, but to me part of the equation is how bad this idea of protecting others from hearing things that are not “politically correct”. We were to the point where certain opinions and beliefs (because they made people feel bad) were not allowed by the media and social elites. If you expressed them, you deserved shame and shunning, plain and simple—no wonder 66 million people were attracted to a guy who seemed to have the courage to actually say what he believes. Instead of shaming people who believe hurtful things, why can’t we hear them out and engage with them with human dignity? Isn’t that a value this nation was founded on? I’m all about rational thinking and allowing the best ideas to win the day, but clearly, offensive opinions aren’t just going to “go away” if we pretend they are too prejudiced to actually exist in good people. Instead of dismissing and shaming (likely to only have them further dismiss us and entrench their opinions further), what prevents us from engaging in a competent way that allows the possibility that what they are saying doesn’t automatically make them a “deplorable” human being?

Anyway, back to caring and kindness. Don’t get me wrong, I am all about being thoughtful, considerate, and kind (one of my favorite pithy sayings from the Dalai Lama is “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible”) We should be kind so long as, by kindness, we mean something along the lines of ‘wanting what is best for the other person’ or ‘helping them to achieve a higher level of success or happiness.’ Giving them a ‘free pass’ out of hard work sounds to me more like a distinct lack of caring.

But no, we don’t value instilling virtue, diligence, and high standards in our schools and society at large anymore to an astoundingly large extent. How dare we fail someone because “life happened” and it suddenly isn’t possible (or convenient) to do what is required? Of course we can just change or drop the requirements. We don’t want people to feel bad because they failed. The “kind” and “caring” thing is to protect them from any negative consequences that happen to them. Clearly.

How does this prepare them for real life? “Life happens” is suddenly an adequate excuse to… not prepare you for real life??
I was a high school teacher for years, and I’m here to tell you: public school doesn’t prepare you for much anymore. It was basically our district’s policy to pass thousands of students who hadn’t learned life’s most basic lesson: that what you make of your life is your responsibility. It’s not anyone else’s fault—even if your life was hard. Or someone was mean to you. Or “made you feel bad.”

Of course there are some exceptions to this (though, careful: the default tendency is for people to assume they are always the exception). But from my perspective, our society has gone too far down this rabbit hole of its highest virtue being to protect other people from “feeling bad.” This empowers incompetence, encourages a mindset that ignores reality and ever taking an inventory of our true abilities, and results in an entitlement mentality.

​I agree with Ted Koppel when he said “Our society finds truth too strong a medicine to digest undiluted. In its purest form, truth is not a polite tap on the shoulder. It is a howling reproach.” Instead of guarding against “feeling bad” we as a society needs to develop the skill of competently considering and engaging with things that may make us want to react negatively. Because the truth—even when it hurts or makes us feel bad—is what, in the end, will set a person free. Not the idea that “I should never say something that will make someone else feel bad.” If someone is living contrary to reality or their ultimate happiness, saying something that makes them feel temporarily bad, but ultimately is in their best interest to hear and apply, is simply the kindest, most caring thing another human can do.
Committed to your success,

4 Responses

  1. Kindness and caring are empowering those we love to become their very best. Yes, not giving them a free pass when life gets hard, but helping them work through it and loving them.

    1. Yes, my life is dedicated to empowering people. What does that mean for you? How do we, exactly, help others work through things and love them?

  2. Right on we need that in our lives
    To be seen as you are
    A true friend is one who will tell you the truth and love even more

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