I remember one time when I was in high school, sitting with my friends and engaging in a frighteningly important discussion; namely, in which Hogwarts house we all felt everybody else belonged. For those of you unfamiliar with the Harry Potter fandom, students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry get sorted into one of four houses based on the sort of person they are/wish to be. Fans can get into long debates over the intricacies of each of the houses, but to put it all in very simple terms, the brave students go to Gryffindor, the ambitious/cunning students go to Slytherin, the smart students go to Ravenclaw, and the kind students go to Hufflepuff.
My friends and I debated for a long time about this, but in the end the results were largely predictable, with the smartest of us being put in Ravenclaw, the most ambitious of us going into Slytherin, etc. The biggest surprise came when my friends placed me in a house, because they decided, with very little discussion, that I was a Hufflepuff.
This declaration completely threw me at the time, because I personally felt that, of all the houses, Hufflepuff was the house I embodied the least. To this day I maintain that I am a Ravenclaw (for I value wisdom, I am quirky, and also because Pottermore totally says so). I have been ambitious to the extent of a Slytherin many times in my life, and while I would never declare myself a brave person, I admire bravery a lot in other people, so I could be a Gryffindor from my desire to be braver alone. But kindness? I had never, ever, thought of myself as kind. Indeed, at the time I assumed my friends were shoving me into Hufflepuff as some sort of mean joke, since Hufflepuff is also considered the house for all of the more simple-minded people.
In retrospect, declaring me a Hufflepuff was probably one of the most flattering things those friends ever said to me.
Here at TBINAA we talk a lot about loving our bodies and the bodies of others, emphasising that the act of learning to love ourselves and the people around us is revolutionary. Any act of kindness demonstrates care and compassion towards our fellow living creatures. It involves empathising with others and performing some conscious action that will make their day just a little bit better. In other words, kindness shows us that there is love in this world, and being kind – demonstrating that love – is a revolutionary act.
We all learn about the value of kindness as very young children. From fairy tale to delightful Disney fairy tale, we are shown that kindness is the most important virtue to have, primarily because the kind people are the ones who get to live happily ever after. This is most noticeable with female characters (Snow White, Cinderella, Belle, Rapunzel), but many of the male characters demonstrate kindness as well (Aladdin, the Beast (indeed, that’s his whole character arc), Kristoff, Flynn Rider (eventually)). And there are plenty of examples in other kids’ stories as well.
But as we grow up, we start seeing, little by little, that the real world is not as simple as the stories we loved as children made it out to be. For one thing, the fairy tales always imply that kindness grants some kind of reward, while in real life this is rarely the case (I can tell you all for a fact that my monthly donations to charity have not gotten me a prince for a husband or a shiny castle, and I highly doubt they ever will do). For another thing, the idea that the level of kindness you exhibit is the primary factor that determines how good and comfortable your life will be reveals itself to be more and more ridiculous as the brave, intelligent, ambitious, and let’s not forget privileged people of the world get further ahead. Finally, for all that we get taught about the importance of kindness as children, it is often the same people (our parents and teachers) who teach us as teenagers and young adults that kindness is at best a waste of time, and at worst a sign of weakness, vulnerability, and stupidity (consider how men are taught to be tough and to take what they want in life, or how women are taught that the physical appearance of themselves and the other women around them is more important than anything else).
Why Bother With Kindness?
There is no doubt that, as we leave our impressionable childhood years, fumble through our sulky teenage years, and become young and often cynical adults, the value of kindness becomes less and less apparent. Some of us might wonder why we should bother with kindness at all. We don’t seem to get anything from it. It doesn’t make our lives better. In fact in some ways it can make our lives worse (donating to charity means I have less money each month, visiting friends in strife means I often get home late and am tired at work the next day, etc). Why concern ourselves with being kind, when there are other virtues to focus on that will be more beneficial to us?
Because kindness is not just about you. Or me. Or anybody in particular. Kindness is about everyone. Kindness is about looking around and recognising that there are people, animals, countries and situations out there that need love, and making the radical decision to make delivering that love a priority. And kindness is still about you too, because it is just as worthwhile to be able to recognise when you need to be kind to yourself. Being able to notice when you are feeling stressed, tired, or sad, and being kind to yourself in some way to help remedy that (reading a book, having a nap, watching a funny TV show) is just as revolutionary as kindness towards others. While an act of kindness may not always benefit you directly, to the people/animals/countries/situations your acts do benefit, it can mean so much more than you can imagine.
If nothing else, consider this: when you have found yourself in times of strife in the past, did anybody come along, take your hand (literally or metaphorically) and let you know that they were there for you? Did anybody take time away from their own life to make sure that you were all right? Was anybody patiently guiding you through things because you were unable to do them yourself? And have you ever since forgotten about the kindness this person bestowed upon you? Imagine how amazing the world would be if everybody were that kind, and how terrible the world would be if nobody were kind at all.
More Radical Reads: The Uselessness of Guilt
I will end this article by turning back to the Harry Potter analogy. When kindness is often seen as an unimportant and often negative virtue, it is understandable why Hufflepuffs are considered simple, or unambitious, by many. But in a world like ours; a world that very clearly needs more kindness, the humble Hufflepuffs are the most revolutionary and inspiring of all the Hogwarts students. To quote Harry Potter author J.K.Rowling’s eldest daughter, “we should all want to be Hufflepuffs”.
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[Feature Image: A younger person with long dark hair swinging in the wind. They are wearing a blue shirt. Behind them is a line of people. They are outside. Source: Tribes of the World]