What is kindness? If anyone should happen to be very kind to us, should we have any reason to ask for more? The modern man boasts of this very virtue, that he is kind. And with that kindness, we have made the erroneous assumption that kindness itself is love. But is it? In the book “The Problem With Pain”, C.S. Lewis made a very enlightening discussion about what mere kindness means and how different it really is from love:
Love Is Not The Same As Kindness
“There is kindness in Love: but Love and kindness are not coterminous, and when kindness (in the sense given above) is separated from the other elements of Love, it involves a certain fundamental indifference to its object, and even something like contempt of it. Kindness consents very readily to the removal of its object – we have all met people whose kindness to animals is constantly leading them to kill animals lest they should suffer. Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering.”
Lewis explained that kindness is merely interested in taking away the suffering of another. Love on the other hand, is interested in the good of his beloved, even if that good should mean that the beloved suffer temporary pain.
How many times have we questioned God’s love for us because He did not appear to be kind? In times of trial and darkness, when His kindness seems so far away, we all too easily doubt He ever loved us. For how could He allow us to suffer so much if He really cares?
But God cares. And more than being kind, He is Love itself, a Love that wills us to be just like Him, a Love that wants us to be strong, steadfast, sensitive to the needs of others, able to empathize with and help those who are in pain.
It’s Easy To Be Kind Without Sacrifice
Lewis further explained how man can so easily boast of kindness as though it is something that is difficult to do:
“The real trouble is that ‘kindness’ is a quality fatally easy to attribute to ourselves on quite inadequate grounds. Everyone feels benevolent if nothing happens to be annoying him at the moment. Thus a man easily comes to console himself for all his other vices by a conviction that ‘his heart’s in the right place’ and ‘he wouldn’t hurt a fly’, though in fact he has never made the slightest sacrifice for a fellow creature.”
“Perhaps my harping on the word “kindness” has already aroused a protest in some readers’ minds. Are we not really an increasingly cruel age? Perhaps we are: but I think we have become so in the attempt to reduce all virtues to kindness. For Plato rightly taught that virtue is one. You cannot be kind unless you have all the other virtues. If, being cowardly, conceited and slothful, you have never yet done a fellow creature great mischief, that is only because your neighbour’s welfare has not yet happened to conflict with your safety, self approval, or ease.”
In the event of conflict between our neighbor’s welfare and our own interests, are we willing to make the necessary sacrifice for the good of the other? If we truly love them, we will be able to do so, for love is not a disinterested act of philanthropy or random kindness towards those you don’t care deeply about. Love is a consuming fire!
Intimacy Reveals True Love and Kindness
Why is it that there are people who seem to be so kind to others and yet so strict with those whom they love? Aside from the possibility of hypocrisy, these people find it easier to be kind with others because they don’t care so much at all for them as much as they care for their own family and friends. Lewis wrote:
“It is for people whom we care nothing about that we demand happiness on any terms: with our friends, our lovers, our children, we are exacting and would rather see them suffer much than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes. If God is Love, He is, by definition, something more than mere kindness. And it appears, from all the records, that though He has often rebuked us and condemned us, He has never regarded us with contempt. He has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most tragic, most memorable sense.”
It is not that we should be unkind to our loved ones. We just find it more difficult to do so because we feel a greater urge deep within us to seek for their good, not just to gain their pleasure or to see them happy at the moment.
“You asked for a loving God: you have one. The great spirit you so lightly invoked, the ‘lord of terrible aspect’, is present: not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes.” – C.S. Lewis