Kindness Can Kill if Love is Unwilling to Wound

We live in a reductionist culture that has tended to reduce love to kindness. The results are often quite problematic as we shall see.

Kindness is a very great thing and has an important place in our relationships. Kindness is evidenced by goodness and charitable behavior, a pleasantness, tenderness and concern for others.

According to Aristotle, kindness is an emotion manifesting itself by the desire to help somebody in need, without expecting anything in return. Peter Kreeft defines kindness as “sympathy, with the desire to relieve another’s suffering.” [Envoy Magazine, Vol 9.3, p. 20]

However, as Kreeft himself notes, it is a very great mistake to equate kindness with love. Kindness is an aspect of love, but it is necessarily distinct from love. For is sometimes happens that love, which wills what is best for the other, may deem it best not to remove all suffering. A father, in fact may impose punishment on a child out of love. Kindness generally seeks to alleviate suffering and negativity. Love understands that suffering often has a salvific role. My parents disciplined me out of love. Had they been merely kind to me, I would likely have been spoiled, undisciplined and ill-equipped for life.

Paradoxically the more we love the more we will often see mere kindness diminish. Consider how kind we can be to strangers. We may sometimes give money to strangers with little questions asked. But if a son or daughter asks for money we may often want to know why and, even if we give it, we will frequently lecture them about being more responsible with their money. The interaction may be less kind, but it may also be more loving for it seeks to end the problem, rather than merely relieve the symptom of the problem.

The good eclipses the best – And herein lies the danger of reducing love to kindness. In simply seeking to alleviate the suffering of the moment, or to give people what they want, many deeper issues go unresolved and worsen. Welfare has created a slavish dependence for many in our culture. And it is not just the poor in our cities. There is corporate welfare, and many other subsidies and entitlements, that too many can no longer go without. Rather than addressing the root causes of poverty, dependence or poor economic conditions and bad business models, kindness interrupts love’s deeper role and treats only the suffering of the moment. In this sense what is merely good (i.e. kindness) replaces what is truly best (Love). True love gives what is best, not merely what is immediately preferred.

Further, Many false expectations are centered in the exaltation of kindness over love. Generally this is manifest in the fact that suffering of any kind is seen as obnoxious, and even the cause for legal action. It has also led to our demands for comfort to become immoderate. Demands for euthanasia flow from this sort of thinking as well.

A final and very terrible effect often flows from mistaking mere kindness for love is that it disposes many towards atheism. Here I simply want to quote Peter Kreeft because he says it so well

It is painfully obvious that God is not mere kindness, for He does not remove all suffering, though He has the power to do so. Indeed, this very fact — that the God who is omnipotent and can, at any instant, miraculously erase all suffering from the world, deliberately chooses not to do so — is the commonest argument that unbelievers use against him. The number one argument for atheism stems from the confusion between love and kindness. [Peter Kreeft, Envoy Magazine, Vol 9.3, p. 20]

Kindness is a very great attribute and it surely has its place. But we must carefully distinguish it from love. Exalting kindness over love amounts to a denial of the wisdom of the Cross. Kindness focuses on comfort and alleviating suffering and this is a very great thing. But love is greater thing for it wills what is best, not what is merely desired.

Finally, just to reiterate. Kindness is not separate from love, but it must be subsumed to love which is wider and deeper. If kindness is in fact subsumed to love, it can be very beautiful and powerful. If it is detached from love or ignores love’s wider and deeper call, kindness can literally kill. Here is a video that beautifully illustrates kindness tied to sacrificial love.

14 Replies to “Kindness Can Kill if Love is Unwilling to Wound”

  1. nothing, absolutely nothing can substitute for a father’s love as no one can duplicate the bond and depth of commitment he has with his child…period

  2. Between this and your posts on the difference between jealousy and envy, sloth and laziness and other examples it becomes clear that our careless substitution of one word for something deemed close enough has been corrupting our thinking. God bless you and keep up the good work.

  3. Will share this with my grandchildren ( ages 8 and 10!) Hope Justin and friends have a bright future in animated
    film. This was well done. Thanks for sharing Monseignor…great message! Just in time for Holy Week !

  4. Msgr., I was wondering if you could comment on how this concept (which I totally agree with) might apply to corporal punishment, especially w/ children. I am having a real problem with it (administering it) right now and I have come to the conclusion that disciplinary measures need not rely on it (although it’s sometimes the easier or more convenient approach). Thank you.

  5. I found this post very interesting, and also true. I had never really thought much about how kindness could be “bad”, in the example that you mentioned, the parents with the child misbehaving. It goes to show that if you truly love someone, it is not always about being kind. It is about helping the person that you love to do what is right in this world. Hence the term “tough love.”

  6. Thanks for this little film
    A film that touches the heart indepth
    Just that little kindness and touch can someone live if we are sensitive towards each other needs

  7. It’s been my own preoccupation for long — the place of suffering in christian life. my own account become what my own philosophy gave me — how best can one appreciate His kindness if there exist no suffering?

    your video is worth a whole book. may you be given the wisdom and strength for more.

  8. The late John Cardinal O’Connor, Archbishop of New York, had this as his episcopal motto: “There is no love without justice” (in English, not Latin). I think that sums it up.

  9. Thank you for addressing what appears to be a big problem in society today. Kindness and being “nice” have certainly distorted our view of what love really is.

  10. So thought provoking! I never realized the difference. This is the first one I read – because someone sent it to me. Now I want to know – what is the difference between jealousy and envy? and sloth and laziness? Can you let me know where to find out the answers to these questions? Thank you. Loved the animated film.

    1. Jessica, those are great questions. Envy’s mark is this: the envious person feels deprived of something that he wants or desires, and has sorrow or sadness that someone else has it. It is the feeling of being deprived that sets envy apart, and of course, that can destroy us. (How often in life do we declare, “That’s not fair!”) Jealousy springs from envy. As for sloth versus laziness, sloth is, most fundamentally, indifference. It can be the root of laziness. Hope this helps.

  11. Quite an impressive article. I know what you are talking about as I was the spoiledest rottenedest human in history. I was never forced to slay my own dragons, and the results now clearly indicate that I am one of the greatest failures in history,

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