Valuing Kindness

Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis

This Week at Plymouth, January 26, 2024

Kindness is an invaluable resource for humanity’s health and well-being, and we all have an unlimited supply.

—Patricia Makatsaria

As our nation turns its attention to the upcoming U.S. Presidential election, I recently admitted to a friend that I can already feel the uptick in meanness. My friend rightly pointed out that we’ve been mired in persistent meanness for a long time, especially on most social media platforms, where rudeness, insults, and exaggeration are rewarded with likes and re-posts. One need only reflect on our current political discourse and campaign environment to see how much kindness has fallen out of favor. There is nothing new about cruelty and harshness in culture and politics. And we underestimate the impact of kindness in response. Research by scholars Margaret Echelbarger from Stony Brook University and Nicholas Epley from the University of Chicago found that, from an early age, people hold back from showing kindness to others because they don’t think the recipients of their kindness will respond positively. So, we undervalue kindness.

Given this nation’s veneration of individualism, capitalism, and the Protestant work ethic, the practice of kindness can quickly be relegated to the province of the spiritual and religious. And if the stinginess of our public policy and the increasing number of anti-hero protagonists in our most popular cultural artifacts are any indication, kindness is both undervalued and anomalous in social exchange. For many, kindness is weakness, as summed up in the cynical cliché, “Nice guys finish last.” It is ironic that a nation that is culturally and hegemonically Christian so chronically undervalues kindness. It seems that the teachings of kindness in Christianity do not carry as much religious weight as the biblical justifications of prosperity or the promises of salvation as a reward for individual piety.

But, the Bible does not undervalue kindness. On the contrary, God’s covenantal relationship with Israel is routinely characterized by God’s loving-kindness. This word describes God’s unwavering commitment to and persistent love, mercy, and kindness toward God’s creation. The prophet Micah declares that God requires that we do justice and love kindness (Micah 6:8). The Apostle Paul listed kindness as a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) and implored the people to be kind to one another (Ephesians 4:32). Still, the biblical guidance that encourages and inspires me most is the wisdom of Proverbs, which promises that “whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life and honor” (21:21). What would it look like to make kindness a priority? If the prevailing ethos of our culture and politics is meanness, perhaps the most potent antidote is the intentional demonstration of kindness, not just to those we know and like, but to all. Perhaps loving and showing kindness can be our gift and witness to a world that undervalues it. May it be so.