I’ve been thinking a lot lately about kindness. Not very exciting, I know. It isn’t nearly as sexy or glamorous as other qualities such as bravery, honor, or even chivalry. In fact, I’ve noticed that sometimes kindness even has a negative connotation. “Kindness,” some would say, is a sign of weakness. I could not disagree more.

Comic from xkcd.

I think kindness is one of the single most important qualities that we, as human beings, can aim for. In fact, I would argue that kindness is brave. Kindness shows honor. Kindness lies at the root of chivalry. Kindness, in my mind, is noble.

Our culture encourages “toughness.” Buck up. Act like a man. Take it on the chin. Emotion is seen as a sign of weakness – of not being strong enough to hold it all inside. All too often I hear people bragging about being “brutally honest.” I’m not going to baby you, they announce proudly. If I don’t like something you’re going to hear about it. As if that person is personally responsible for making everyone else tougher.

Honesty is a very, very important quality to me. Brutality? Not so much.

When I hear someone boasting about their so-called “brutal honesty,” I translate that to: I’m a self-important jerk who can’t be bothered to make the effort to phrase things tactfully. That person does not impress me; that person makes me sad.

Now I’m not perfect by any means, but I still believe in honor. I try. I still believe in braveness, chivalry, and – yes – kindness. When someone makes me mad, I take a step back and consider their motivations. This does not mean that I run away from problems or that I’m afraid to stand up for myself; it means that I give my fellow human the benefit of the doubt, and when that fails, I communicate as clearly but kindly as I know how.

It is not weak or soft or easy to be considerate of others. It is difficult and trying and sometimes infuriating to be kind when others don’t return the favor. But that’s why I know it’s worth it. A code of ethics is not about impressing people or appearing noble – it’s about doing what you know is right no matter what. No matter if that makes others think you’re weak. It’s about making the right choice even when it’s the difficult choice. True badasses aren’t brutal; badasses are kind.

I believe that “brutal” has little place in honesty… or honor. I believe that kindness, however, does.

What do you think?

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  • I agree! People tend to associate kindness with weakness, which I think is incorrect. Showing kindness is sometimes the hardest and strongest thing to do.

  • Sarah J.

    Thank you! We have enough people who are tough. We need more people who are kind. Honor will never die as long as there are people like you and me who are devoted to kindness. Kindness is not the easy route, but it’s the right one.

    • So true; it’s not easy at all. I don’t always succeed, but I certainly try.

  • klstevens

    “When I hear someone boasting about their so-called “brutal honesty,” I translate that to:I’m a self-important jerk who can’t be bothered to make the effort to phrase things tactfully. That person does not impress me; that person makes me sad.”

    So is this why people cringe when I say I’m brutally honest? Because my idea of ‘brutal honesty’ is to be accurate but tactful, and to find some good in everything. Like when I critique or beta read. I’m always upfront, but I’m never negative or mean. Even when things are absolutely terrible. Because I’d never want anyone to be that way to me.

    Hmm… Maybe I need to find a new term for my brand of honesty.

    • I think so! Brutal is a very negative word. To me it implies unnecessary cruelty or force. It seems to me that what you’re describing is just honesty. Telling people the truth and being accurate is just honesty. That honest is vitally important in giving critique, especially, but if phrased tactfully, there shouldn’t be anything “brutal” about it. Occasionally painful for the receiver, yes, because the truth hurts, but the delivery shouldn’t be brutal. I don’t think you’re brutal (I can’t imagine that), and I do think it’s just not the right phrase. Maybe “straightforward,” “candid,” or just plain, “honest.”

  • jclementwall

    “When I hear someone boasting about their so-called “brutal honesty,” I translate that to: I’m a self-important jerk who can’t be bothered to make the effort to phrase things tactfully. That person does not impress me; that person makes me sad.”

    Amen to that.

  • *Standing Ovation*

  • Melissa Crytzer Fry

    Wow. Great post. “Badasses are kind.” I like that – and agree that it takes a lot more effort to speak tactfully and purposefully with people who make you angry. Umm… I need to work on NOT having that knee-jerk reaction when meanies attack. So many wonderful things to think about in your post. You are wise beyond your years, young Annie.

    • I heard the last in “young padawan” voice. =)~ Thanks Melissa!

  • Natalia Sylvester

    I’ve always felt that we need more compassion in this world (kindness, compassion, you know…same thing 😉 so this post really resonated with me. It’s funny, because it used to bother me when people would constantly tell me that I was so nice…I thought it meant I was a pushover, and I wanted to be seen as other things, too…strong, intelligent, etc. Now I think being called kind is one of the best compliments a person can get.

    • I love that! I know that feeling too; for me it has a lot to do with being feminine or girly and the way that the qualities associated with that often get dismissed as less… whatever… than the more ‘male’ qualities. So yes, I am all for embracing that as a compliment!

  • Russell Linton

    “Brutal” truth doesn’t mean they will verbally beat you down – it does mean they will tell you things you don’t want to hear. I want to hear those things because it points out something I’m doing wrong especially things I don’t see or won’t admit to.

    Sure, you’ve got to have some empathy and do some tailoring to whoever you’re talking too. But I’ve met -way- too many people (self included) that needed their proverbial butt handed to them to straighten them out. I’d never rule out “brutal” honesty all together.

    Give me a choice between an agent that’s asking for pages they know they’ll never read because they’re “being kind” and one that points out every little flaw they can find, I’m headed for door number two, guaranteed!

    • See, you associate “kindness” with “falseness.” I don’t want an agent who asks for pages they know they’ll never read either… but that has nothing to do with “kindness” to me. That’s falseness. That’s wasting someone’s time. That’s unprofessional and inconsiderate. Being dealt with kindly, to me, is not the same thing as being bullshitted. I have had people point out every mistake they could find (even the big glaring ones I didn’t want to admit to) and still do it with kindness. In other words, you can hand someone their ass and still pat them on the back.

      To me, brutal honesty *does* mean they beat you down. That’s the meaning of the word “brutal.” I too want to hear the hard truths to become better at my craft, but a hard truth delivered tactfully is an entirely different thing than a hard truth delivered brutally. To me, brutality is a sign of carelessness, inconsiderate attitude, or perhaps ulterior motives (jealousy, personal disagreements, etc.). I don’t want anything to do with that type of critiquer.

      Because I know you IRL and I know that you do deliver critique tactfully, I think we actually want the same things and just disagree on wording. You seem to associate kindness with weakness or fakeness, and I associate it with tact and strength. In the end, we both want honest critique and to be dealt with respectfully, right?

      • Russell Linton

        Yeah – definitely like you said, semantics!

        My take – Tact and kindness are different. Tact means you aren’t being rude – not that you are necessarily being kind. Kind is usually associated with being symapthetic, agreeable, etc. I need disagreeable in my crit more than agreeable…

        None of this says kindness is weakness mind you – but it’s an emotionally loaded word as much as “brutal”. I still say brutal truth is generally hard to hear and incisive but not an ad hominem “attack”.

        And sympathy in writing? Really? 🙂 I’ve got a folder full of rejection letters – with tactful, but completely robotic and disingenuous sayings that the rest of the struggling horde has seen a million times. It makes the “kind” personal rejections really count, but even then, that’s less kindness and more of a “you’re finally getting close, but no cigar”.

        At any rate, I’d prefer a solid thrashing (“brutal” style) by an editor to an auto-reply – cause that would be gold IMO. I’d frame that sh…stuff. Maybe I’m a bit sadistic, heh.

        • Haha, indeed. Well yes, I still believe that someone can tear apart your manuscript and still be kind to you. Once you’ve had a truly cruel-natured critique it’s very easy to see where kindness comes into play. But this is all sort of side-tracked from the discussion, which is really about kindness in life, not in critique. Of course critique is a huge part of our lives, and I still believe there’s a very important place for it, but I totally get where you’re coming from as far as “no holds bar” feedback. Writers are asking for that though, and most people in real life are not.

  • I love when people have a code of ethics and stick to it. I write Horror because I don’t like gray areas in my books. There’s good and bad; and the good always win (as opposed to real life). It may seem simplistic, but I prefer to think of it as idealistic. And kindness is absolutely important.

    • Fascinating, Lexa! I would almost say that I write horror for the opposite reason — to show the many shades of gray — but that’s not always true. I sometimes do that too, and I guess, now that you’ve said it, it is sort of idealistic.

  • Cynthia Robertson

    Great post, Annie. Good points. There’s a saying – I don’t recall by who, but it goes something like: be kind to all you meet, for everyone is fighting a great battle. To me it seems to say, hey, life’s not a little hard for everyone and there’s no good excuse for senselessly making it harder.
    I agree 100% with your assessment of the use of brutal honesty – I’ll pass. 😉

    • Yes, I’m familiar with that quote. And I think that fits right in. Thank you Cynthia!

  • Peggy Biggs

    Great post, and I’m still thinking about it! I believe you meant this topic to be far bigger
    than writing. In my life I’ve experienced unkindness and been unkind and I’ve
    come to the opinion that kindness is the only thing that really matters. When I
    read the word kindness, I consider it another aspect of love or even synonymous
    with love. Love, kindness, compassion, mercy…

    The thing that makes kindness so difficult at times is that it requires setting aside one’s
    own ego to a certain extent. I struggle with this every day and fail frequently. I don’t agree with lots of people, ideas, & actions! That doesn’t mean that my opinion is the only one that counts. No one appointed me to “set people straight or deliver the brutal truth” (although I’m ashamed to say that I’ve tried to do just that many times in my life). At least I can say that I have a new goal in my old age, which is to aspire to love, kindness,
    compassion, and mercy. Annie, I’ve noticed that you, also, are becoming more
    kind as you go through life, and it makes you more and more beautiful.

    • Thank you!! And you’re right, I did mean it to be far bigger than writing. And I at least mostly agree with your thought that it’s the only thing that really matters (or at least one of them), which is what I loved so much about the xkcd comic at the top of the post. =)
      Yes, kindness *is* difficult. But all honorable things are, aren’t they? Selfishness is easy, which is why I think it’s important for people to have a personal code of ethics. If doing the right thing was our first instinct, everyone would do it all the time.

  • Peggy Biggs

    As soon as I saw your topic, I was reminded of one of my favorite verses from Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice”:

    The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
    It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
    Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
    It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
    ‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
    The throned monarch better than his crown;
    His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
    The attribute to awe and majesty,
    Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
    But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
    It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
    It is an attribute to God himself;
    And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
    When mercy seasons justice.

    • Awesome section! Love the “it becomes the throned monarch better than his crown” line.

  • Lari @

    I love this post. I too have noticed the trend for people to declare themselves as “honest” when they are actually just being assholes.

    • Bahahaha! Lari, this is my favorite comment so far. PERFECT. (And TPB is my favorite movie of all time.)

  • Amanda

    Totally agree. I’ve never liked “brutal honesty” either. It’s SUPPOSED to mean that the speaker tells the truth even when that truth is brutal, but in reality it always seems to mean that the speaker doesn’t care about your feelings.

    • Yeah, I think that’s crux of it. The “brutality” part would have to be descriptive of receiving the truth, not in giving it. Otherwise it’s just an excuse to be mean — and that’s what I have a problem with.

  • Nina Badzin

    Annie, I think you summed it up PERFECTLY in that last line. I totally agree with you. I think of myself as a very honest person, but not an unkind one. I have never liked people who get laughs at another’s expense.