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Myth: Kindness is weakness

March 28, 2013

I have found that people mistake kindness for weakness.  Why?

Perhaps it is a cultural thing:  fighting, revenge, war are all equated with toughness and strength.  But I would like to show you that these things are easy compared to being kind.  It is much harder to be kind than to be cruel.  Kindness is not for the weak.  Kindness in the face of adversity requires a strength 1000 times greater than throwing a punch back.  Read on and you will see what I mean:

We must want for all what we want for ourselves.  What do you want for yourself?  Love?  Peace?  A world without violence?  You shall not have it if you do not give it.  No one ever returns hate with love, anger with peace, cruelty with kindness.  But what would happen if someone did?  What would happen if YOU did?  Could it cause a shift in human consciousness?

Yes

Why don’t people return anger with peace or hate with love?

Two reasons:

First, it is a basic human instinct or knee-jerk reaction to be angry or hateful back to those who are rude or hateful etc to us.  The moment someone is extremely rude or out of line we feel this instant ‘screw you’ feeling and we feel justified in giving it right back to them and we tell ourselves they deserve it.  I am sure most people have felt this way, myself included.  And this instinct is what we act on.

The second is because we forget that we have a choice.  This need to get ‘even’ requires for us to become the very person we want to get even with.  A rude or angry or out of line person.  We walk away saying to ourselves “I am a good person.  They are the bad person.  They started it.” and pat ourselves on the back for putting that person in their place.  But really, what has this accomplished?  What good has this done?  And does this line up with the belief that you are a good person?

“I defeat my enemies when I make them my friends.” Wise words from Abraham Lincoln.  “Let no man pull you so low as to hate him” MLK

Enter a new way of reacting to hate, anger, rudeness:  Active Kindness

Active kindness is the act of practicing kindness every moment of every day regardless of how others treat us.  It is choosing to react to our own inner kindness, making the active decision to do so thus overriding our instinct to meet hate with hate, anger with anger, rudeness with rudeness.   We react to our inner kindness instead of reacting to the hate, anger or rudeness before us.  Instead of being a mirror for what is ugly in the world, active kindness is a reflection of what is beautiful about you.

I know there are those who will say but what if someone is killing you (insert any criminal or violent act).  When our lives are threatened or the lives of those we love, another instinct kicks in along with adrenaline – the fight or flight instinct.  Use it to protect yourself and those you love.  Do the least harm possible to save yourself or your loved ones.  Doing the least harm possible is an element of active kindness.  If you do not have to kill, don’t.  If fleeing is a viable choice over fighting, flee.  In these circumstances you can hardly help what you do and that is ok.  Active kindness is something that we can use when we are not in a life/death situation.  It is something we can use when we absolutely do have a choice.  And these are the circumstances I am speaking of in this blog post – not the ones where you are about to be destroyed or someone you love is about to be.

A perfect place to practice kindness in action is while driving.  But you can practice it any time someone makes you mad.  You will see that it is so much harder to maintain kindness and understanding towards someone who is rude, angry or otherwise than it is to just say ‘screw you’ or whatever your preferred method is.

Next time someone flips you off while driving try this:  Smile and wave genuinely and give them the kindest look they may have ever seen.  Keep doing it until they lower their finger.  Some fingers take longer to go down than others.  But I promise you, it will go down.  This is called love in action / reaction. No one likes to be an asshole by themselves.  And if they can drag you down to their level you have just satisfied them.  But why not do the opposite and raise them up?  Have them satisfy your need for love and kindness instead?  Why not make their day instead of letting them ruin yours?  Do you see what I mean?  And if you’ve ever flipped someone else off while driving then hey, you owe this experiment of kindness to someone 🙂

You will see the being kind under adverse circumstances is anything but passive and certainly not weak.  You will have to fight your inner knee jerk reaction that wants you to sink yourself down to their level.  It is so much harder to raise someone up who is trying to pull you down than it is to just sink down with them.

Practicing kindness is much more difficult to practice than hate or anger.  Try not to let your emotions or your instinct control you.  Kindness is a tool.  It is always easier to say the first thing that comes to mind when in a heated discussion and to let instinct and emotions be the guide.  Unfortunately those things are one of the root causes of all of our problems as human beings.

It is only when we think more deeply that we can evolve past our human instinct to meet hate with hate, anger with anger, and actually make a choice to override that part of our humanness that we separate ourselves out completely from the problems which have gotten us here in the first place.  Until then in some ways our toes are still dipped in it.  And you really can’t be in a river and out of a river at the same time.  Don’t be part of the problems of the world anymore. Be the solution!

After 35 years of research and study and taking a number of courses in terrorism, genocide, war history and psychology as well as working directly with survivors of modern day genocide I have come to realize that the potentiality to commit or be a part of atrocities exist in all of us – some of us to a much lesser degree of course, but it is there in me and you.  The Stanford Prison experiment is but one of several examples of how every day people – you, me – are capable of participating in the worst of cruelties.  The Milgram Experiment is another.

We will never be rid of the horrible things that people do until we realize how these atrocities are possible and that each one of us carries with us at least a piece of this human psychological disease that allows these things to happen.  It manifests when someone who is vegan hopes that an animal eater suffers like the animals.  Or when you feel hate and then act on that hate. This is a part of the disease.

We are all the same both in our potential for ugliness but the key is we all have a potential for great beauty, for great kindness.  It’s a choice.

…..until then, smile at people flipping you off.  Then go from there.  It’s hard.  But the results will warm your heart.  Wait and see.

And now the rest of this blog is for my already vegan friends.  If you’re not vegan you don’t need to read this and I thank you for reading this far!

Someone who is vegan should be kind to everyone, no matter what they eat:

Many people have mistaken my kindness activism for repression of truth. Is it possible to tell someone the truth and still be kind? And is it also possible that being kind is living proof of the truth?

That truth being the world is a better place when we are kind to all others.

Be the change. Deliver truths the way you know someone can best receive them, the way you would want to have received them. Kindness is not a suppression of truth. In fact it is the exact opposite. When you deliver truth in a way that it is better received then you have actually made good your delivery – for it was received versus rejected. And this is how kindness and truth walk perfectly hand in hand.

I have been told that the peaceful and kind approach to all living beings, be they animal eater or not, is a do nothing approach.  I have been told it will not help the animals.   It may take a while for me to explain, thus the length of this blog, but trust me the peaceful and kind approach is anything but a ‘do nothing’ approach.

Just a few questions to ponder before I go into detail about how I believe this approach will help the animals, and not just the animals, but all of humankind as well.

Does war ever truly result in lasting peace?  For who?  What is peace?

If we want animals to be treated with kindness can this be achieved by treating some people without kindness?  How so?

If you are vegan, were you always a vegan?  There is 99.9% chance that at some point in your life you ate animals and/or their products.

And now for a little experiment:

Online or in person tell someone who eats animals how terrible they are for doing so.  What is the result? Have you been able to bring another vegan into the fold with this or another similar method?

Online or in person tell someone who eats animals that they are important in this world.  That they are a miracle and they are capable of great things.  That regardless of where they are at in their journey they are valuable and have many great things inside of them.  (Choose your own words)What is the result?  Did you bring another vegan into the fold?

My guess is that neither method worked – or so you think.

What were the results of experiment number one?  In my experience my guess is that the person became angry and defensive.  When someone is placed into a defensive situation they will not back down.  In fact, I learned in my psychology classes that placing someone in a defensive situation will not only distance them further from your way of thinking, but it will actually cause them to plant their feet even more firmly than ever before into their own way of thinking, even if their way of thinking is illogical and even if that person 100% realizes their own thinking is illogical, it is human nature to defend when being attacked. One of our biggest defenses is called cognitive bias, a natural predisposition that all humans possess which causes us to validate our ideas and behaviors at any cost and especially when we feel attacked.  Because unfortunately another part of our human nature is that humans do not like to be wrong.  Ever.

So if I behave in a way that causes those who would eat animals to become even more firm in their beliefs about eating animals what have I done?  Have I helped the animals?  Or have I actually made the situation worse by creating a more devout animal eater?

Why do these animal eaters matter?

Well, in my opinion, animal eaters are the most important people on the planet.  Every one of them is a potential vegan. 

And the more potential vegans who become vegan the closer human beings will get to collectively restoring animals to their rightful places here on earth.  For as long as there are people who would eat animals, there will be animals who will be eaten.  It is imperative to find a way to make veganism look more attractive than carnism.  To inspire someone to cross over.  If our words and actions cause someone to plant their feet even more firmly in their own beliefs, there will not be any crossing over.  And we have just made carnism stronger in another person, and this is the exact opposite of what we should do.

Let’s revisit experiment number two – online or offline have a conversation with someone who would eat animals.  This time, practice only love, peace and kindness no matter what they throw at you.  You will probably be met by the end of the conversation with one of two responses from that person:  I think it’s admirable what you stand for.  or (nothing)

The nothing is something.  It means they realize that it takes two to fight, two to engage in war.  And you have proven that you are what you stand for: peace, love and kindness to all living beings, even to the one who would eat animals who is not being nice to you.  You have now given them living proof, tangible and undeniable proof of what veganism is:  kindness whenever possible as much as possible. And this is vital.

The most important person to a vegan is the person who is not vegan. Chasing away non-vegans from vegan Facebook pages, using foul language and calling them names will actually add more harm.  If only vegans visited vegan sites then what?

People often live up to what is expected of them. Do you expect an animal eater to be a jerk?  I promise you, they will deliver on that.  But whose fault is it?  Are you at all to blame for someone being a jerk?  Did you help them to raise that part of themselves to the top?  If you do then you are contracting with those who would eat animals to bring the worst out of them.  A worst that exists in all of us.  Less than desirable traits are not unique to anyone and if you conspire to bring them out of someone are you as much to blame?

Vegans often tell me ‘but animal eaters are angry too’.

Point:  If they were not angry before you started talking to them, but were angry after, who is to blame?  Is it the animal eater?  Or did you help them to get there and if so, how is that helping anything?

Expect everyone to be a great person in their own time, at their own pace, and within their own ideologies and they will become the greatest person they can be. All you have to do is love what is good in every single person. Of course people say things that are designed to make us upset. What if we put our emotions aside? What if we reached out to every person with a friendly smile and brightened their day even if their goal was to darken ours? Why allow them their goal? Why not assert our own goal – to make the world a brighter and happier place? What good can come from a fight? What good can come from not fighting and instead making a friend? Which is the better choice?

I understand how hard it is to live the vegan lifestyle in this world. It is as if we walk parallel to an evil only we can see. It is a kind of Brave New World where only we are enlightened to the culture of impersonal consumption and death. A trip to a grocery store, a 30 minute television viewing, a drive down the road, a visit to a friend’s house, every single moment of our lives we are confronted with a horror others do not see. The others are not completely blind.

They do see one thing: YOU.

They take and make their opinion about veganism and the plight of the animals based on you. Are you loving, forgiving, patient, kind, empathetic, peaceful and compassionate to all living beings? We can hate and feel vengeful towards those that just don’t see what we see. But never forget, they are watching you. Not the animals or their plight. You. They are looking to you for their definition of veganism. You are their definition. How will you fulfill this very important role? ♥

In closing, being kind and loving to everyone, even to those who would eat animals and are being unkind to us, is anything but passive.  And it is so much more than doing ‘nothing’.  Try it.  It is not easy to be kind always.  It takes enormous strength.  This is because kindness is strength.  I hope you will find your strength – it is a gift inside of you waiting for you to open it every moment of every day.

❤ Peace

 

10 Comments
  1. Thank you for sharing this perspective, it is definitely something to strive for and a challenge. Love, compassion, kindness are indeed required as part of our being to be the change we want to see, but in order for people to understand what is going on, they still require information, and as much as being kind and loving about what you deliver, the information always deals with this personal matter that people actively engage in and the cognitive bias and dissonance often kicks in regardless of how gentle the words are. To simply act kind and loving and not speak truth is a disservice. The main problem is psychology: denial, self-deception, comfort, fear of admitting wrong, fear of change, etc. People need to value honesty more, and recognize the psychological aspects that prevent them from seeing reality as it honestly is.

    Great article, I will love the next one as well, psychology is most fascinating 🙂

    Peace and love.

  2. I’m glad you liked it. And I agree with you. Truth is imperative. It is the deliverance of that truth that is equally imperative. Unfortunately truth is something that someone must actually choose to see. Even if it is right there in front of them they may not see it. But kindness offers them more of a chance to respond to it as truth. I want to give everyone as much chance as possible to see the truth ❤ Peace and thanks for your comment – it reminds me of how important the truth is!

  3. Courtney permalink

    I am so glad that I found this post. I have been having problems trying to express my views to meat eating friends , especially on Facebook. I have been immersing myself in the “in your face” take no prisoners graphics and statements from the militant branch (and I am angry and upset as they are), sharing their graphics and engaging their posts- then feeling like I am not only alienating the ones I hope to convert but also myself. I have tried to engage with other vegans and “militant” vegans online (FB) with questions about how we may better influence people rather than just preaching to each other, or being outrage addicts for each other’s benefit- however, it seems when they realize I am essentially asking the question “what else can we do besides than bitch to each other or share slaughter pics” they conveniently move on to another thing to yell about in SCREAM CAPS and exclamation points (!!!)

    Anyway, I am a relatively new convert- vegetarian since 2010 and only vegan this year- so I am new to really dealing with all the emotions that come up with my “recent” or rather gradual epiphanies. But mostly, I want to say that the major turning point for me was a long and thoughtful discussion with a KIND vegan in 2009. I was already leaning in that direction, but having a detailed discussion with kind and thoughtful (and very truthful! no sugarcoating) answers was what really pushed me past my tipping point- so it’s a wonder why I decided to take the angry approach myself.

    Thank you for helping me to clarify, so well done, so true in every word.

    • Dear Courtney – I am new to veganism as well – my one year anniversary is this May 27, 2013! I’m THRILLED you liked my article here! I also have a FaceBook page and its different to other vegan pages in that I concentrate on keeping your kindness and leave the photos I can no longer look at to other pages. And I do not reject anyone from my page – I have a lot of animal eaters living peaceably among the ‘Like’s because unlike other pages where people who disagree or are rude are labeled as trolls, on my page they are loved, welcome and viewed as what they are – people. The same way all animals should be viewed as what they are – animals. Never lessen the status of any living being or else you just become the very problem you seek to solve. And besides, how else will they stay connected to veganism in a positive way and maybe some day they will cross over as a result! https://www.facebook.com/crueltyfreeeating I am also on Twitter as well crueltyfreeeating. You are special in two ways. The first is you found veganism! The second is it takes the strongest of persons to choose kindness over our human instinct to meet anger with anger and hate for hate. Never let anyone drag you down, that’s easy and you don’t need any muscle for that. Always do your best to lift them up. It is much harder. But it is the very thing that will help the animals by creating a kinder world that will be more likely to embrace veganism because they see the kindness in vegans and not anger or hate. Thank you for being so special!!!!

  4. SUCH a great blog post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas. The night after the Mayweather/Manny fight is quite fitting to read this as I always use boxing for the “anger meeting anger” analogy. Look at some Eastern Martial Arts for beautiful metaphors of meeting anger with kindness. (Yin and yang). Keep up the great posts. The world needs more ideas like this.

    • Thank you! And the world needs people just like you. I will look into Eastern Martial Arts. I never want to stop learning about, and opening myself up, to kindness. Have a wonderful day friend!

  5. Catt permalink

    Forgive. Remember most people didn’t start their lives as vegan… You had a process to enlightenment and so do others. Pray.

  6. Interesting. We do start our lives as vegan. We drink our mother’s milk which is a vegan thing to do. That any mother has the right to choose whom she gives her milk to and that she may be with her children and not have them taken from her; this is vegan. But you are right in that we don’t start our lives as vegan culturally. We are taught that an animal is a food and to drink the breast milk of other animals. But nature does start us as vegans. A toddler will never choose a chicken walking around over a strawberry as the snack. The toddler will play with the chicken and eat the strawberry. The child must be taught how to kill and cook and eat the chicken. They do not have to be taught to eat the strawberry. This they can figure out on their own.

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