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I was disturbed when I came across the proverb “Kindness costs nothing.” I would be quick to agree that politeness costs little, is easy to learn and usually easy to practice, but kindness is a subtle concept; few can learn it and very few can practice it. Children begin learning to be polite at a very early age, not only to their elders but also to their companions. In nearly all situations it improves the polite person’s social relationships, and the payoff is having many friends and few enemies. Kindness is different; it is difficult to practice and is generally only seen in motherly love. In that case it may be a genetically inherited trait and should have a separate name, like mother-love. This form of kindness is the wholehearted helping hand a mother gives to her children in particular and to most children in general. But the kindness at its root is different from mother-love.

When I read, “Kindness costs nothing,” my immediate thought was oh yeah, it costs nothing but … growing enough maturity to have forethought for other people’s needs and problems, thinking through how one might do something to actually help other people, making some decisions on how to cultivate those helping actions, cultivating habits than can spontaneously spring forward with the appropriate actions, being aware enough in the moment of other people’s needs and knowing automatically what needs to be done, and then having enough awareness to identify opportunities and do the right thing before the moment has passed. Kindness costs nothing in the moment but it takes a lifetime of costly preparation to practice kindness.

Kindness isn’t easy because all of the short-term benefits go to the recipient of the action, and the benefits come only to the giver of kindness at later times, because they treat themselves better than they would have, had they not cultivated the ability to do kind acts. Also, kindness enhances humanities survival and fulfillment. A subtle point of kindness is that it usually isn’t doing something for someone; it is removing the impediments to the other person doing something for themselves. Kindness isn’t giving people money, food, shelter or other things that help them live better lives; rather kindness is removing the obstacles that are preventing them getting those necessities for themselves. Thus kindness is different from helping. A helping person gives money, food, or shelter to a needy person, but unfortunately that action decreases that needy person of the abilities and satisfactions of doing those things for themselves; it deprives them of the knowledge and courage to do those things. Unfortunately, direct giving makes people even less able to live abundantly.

Kindness is a deeper kind of helping because it gets at the root causes of what the individual needs most, and that is the experience of how to think about what they really need, to plan on how to fulfill those needs, and physically do what is needed. Think in terms of removing what is obstructing the view of what is needed. When people see what is needed and see a clear path to that goal, and know the easy actions that need to be done they will simply do them. Life is easy when you see what needs to be done and do it.

Kindness is revealing a worthwhile goal to another person that is attainable with doable actions.