In yesterday’s post we pondered that being holy is more than being nice. Today we do well to ponder that that being loving is not the same as being kind.

Here too 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. But 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 sense they 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 the merely good (kindness) replaces the truly best (Love). True love gives what is best, not merely what is immediately preferred. Kindess too often looks merely to relief whereas true love looks to healing, which often involves some painful choices.

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 in our culture. It has also led to our demands for comfort to go on steroids. Demand 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 focuses on healing, and it wills what is best, not what is merely desired.

Please note this is not a blog against kindness, only an attempt to distinguish and to subsume kindness under well ordered love. But kindness is an important and necessary virtue.

This video is a beautiful story of how kindness is also tied to sacrificial love and seeks to bring healing, even at cost rather than mere relief.

25 Responses

  1. [...] Catholic Stand Establishing Absolute, Knowable Truth – 3 Easy Steps – J. Heschmeyer Kindness is Not the same as Love – Msgr. Charles Pope, ADW Blog My Year Off – Looking Back at My First Year of Marriage – Bob [...]

    • Repent and Believe the Gospel ! says:

      And of course you have heard of the term “kindness that can kill” with the whole mercy killing thing (euthanasia).

      Be alert when the term “kindness” are used by the materialists/liberals because they like to redefine words and so does the devil.

      And of course you know it all started from the Garden of Eden – the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil offered by the devil.
      You see the devil, has his own version of “good” and “evil.”
      But the concept of “good and evil” is quite a concept, where did the devil get this concept?
      I know the answer but the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is a riddle in itself is it not?

  2. Pam H. says:

    Love IS kind, but kindness is not always love. It depends on the secret motives of the heart.

  3. Anna Marie Schadt says:

    Love is a verb, it can be expressed through several languages , but kindness being the universal dialect. . The prisons are filled with criminals that LOVE , but obviously their crimes weren’t kind. So the lack of kindness in the expression of that love is like ice cream , Delicious looking, but cold as ice. The warmth in your mouth is what melts it, and the warmth in our love is kindness. So let’s serve up a few scoops , my flavor of choice is the Golden Rule, What’s yours?

  4. Joan says:

    Kindness is a single attribute of Love, expressed in actions. Love is a whole experience, or state of being. Although God is kind (adjective), God IS Love (verb).

  5. Anna Marie S says:

    Love is a verb, and can be expressed in many languages, but kindness is the universal dialect. The prisons are filled with people that LOVE, however their crimes weren’t kind. Love is delicious like ice cream , but it is the warmth of our mouths that melts it, without that, it is as cold as ice. Kindness is the warmth of love. So let’s serve up a few scoops. My flavor of choice is the” Golden Rule”. What’s yours? Please let me know why this was posted , and then deleted a few minutes later?

  6. Anna Marie Schadt says:

    My reply has now been posted again . Thank you for your thought provoking article and wishing you a lovely day.

    Respectfully, Anna Marie

  7. PD says:

    Father,

    Can you help me understand what it means that we are not to judge (in the sense the Bible writers mean)? I find that this comes up a lot where one is assumed to be “unkind” or “unloving” when one is (again, assumed) to be “judging”? How can we evaluate our consciences truly in this regard?

  8. RichardGTC says:

    “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 sense they can no longer go without.”–Agreeing with everything in this post, I just would like to point out that government welfare often, perhaps even almost always, goes against the principle of subsidarity.

  9. Brendan says:

    As a follow-up to this blog post, I believe it is important for us to remember that authentic kindness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit’s presence within us. It is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that allows us to express kindness as described in the blog post and to discern the times when love involves embracing suffering instead of trying to eliminate it. I think further reflection on kindness, love, and tenderness (see for example Wojtyla’s focus on tenderness in Love and Responsibility) will help us grasp better and live more fully our call to holiness through suffering, especially as seen in statements from Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical Spe Salvi, which include the following: “It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it, and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love” (Spe Salvi, 37). “The individual cannot accept another’s suffering unless he is personally able to find meaning in suffering, a path of purification and growth in maturity, a journey of hope” (Spe Salvi, 38). “In the end, even the ‘yes’ to love is a source of suffering, because love always requires expropriations of my ‘I,’ in which I allow myself to be pruned and wounded” (Spe Salvi, 38). “The capacity to suffer for the sake of the truth is the measure of humanity” (Spe Salvi, 39).

  10. Steve B says:

    Thank you Msgr. Pope – the Kindness & Nice articles are “Off the Charts”!

    I really do feel like I’m speaking a foreign language with family and friends – Thank you again and GOD BLESS!

  11. Jennifer says:

    Monsignor, you are so right! I am reminded of a Thanksgiving holiday I spent with family when I was a teenager. My aunt had gotten a bit drunk and behaved in an embarrassing manner. She looked to me for confirmation that she hadn’t been too bad. She was really, really embarrassing! But to soothe her feelings, I told her that she hadn’t been that bad.

    I can see now that I am a mother, I would never spare my children’s feelings if it came to inappropriate behavior. To spare their feelings would be unloving, even if it hurt them.

    Thank you for writing this blog, which always gives me something to think about…and new points of reference.

  12. Karen says:

    Excellent article. I have the impression though that most of the posters here missed the point of the article. I would say kindness is one of many possible attributes of love –one which may or may not be implemented depending on the circumstances. Is it “kind” to euthanize someone in pain –some would say ‘yes’, some ‘no’. I would say “no –but it depends on your eternity perspective. Was Jesus “kind” when he called the Pharisees ‘vipers’ and “white washed tombs”? Or when he whipped the money changers out of the temple? Or how about his response to the woman asking for healing for her daughter and he tells her basically to go away: “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” She persists with her wonderful reply and gets what she wants –and that’s the point in this article. Sometimes you have to be “unkind” to elicit the most loving result.

  13. Theophilus2 says:

    Embrace the Cross of Christ. Amen, there is no True discipleship without discipline. And we do great disservice to others and ourselves when we become the enablers of bad behaviour.

  14. Theophilus2 says:

    PD, they abuse the Gospel of God who say “don’t judge” in an effort to silence. Right reason demands we make judgement calls daily. It is not for us to condemn the soul. See, in context, Romans 2 and Matthew 7. We are warned against hypocrisy, time and again. But also see Mt 7:15-20 “So by their fruits will you know them”. I defer to Father for a better answer as I’m no scholar but a person of faith. God love you.

  15. Jane says:

    I often recall that many years ago someone said C.S. Lewis said :”Love is more stern and splendid than mere kindness.” I have quoted it often.

  16. Robertlifelongcatholic says:

    As the word implies kindness is a relative expression of empathy,as two of a kind, however love is not necessarily empathetic nor does it share similarities.

  17. one anonymous says:

    God will discipline us out of Love, because He Loves us He was willing to suffer the unjust “discipline” of men even to crucifixion. Scripture clearly talks about God’s discipline for us as He does discipline those He Loves. But He chastises as a Father not an enemy. His Love shows and He is even gentle in His discipline or He may be severe but we know He has not abandoned us and He does not want to hurt us or destroy us (as the devil does) but God wants to bring us to Himself, to Heaven itself. There is a vast difference, as there is from Heaven and hell.

    We need to discern the kindness and Love and the discipline and chastisement of others because they are not God. God helps us to know who is “helping” us out of Love and who is really the enemy in disguise (a wolf in sheep’s clothing). For some will even deceive themselves to think they are “helping” you with their “discipline” when in reality they are the devil’s instrument of deception and destruction wanting to discourage and destroy and for their own selfish ambitions. Pray for God’s discipline because He will help us and guide us and form us, in His Love, to be His, to avoid the pitfalls of evil in this world that “discipline” us cruelly and without Mercy. Christ’s says: “My yoke is easy, and My burden is light”… a yoke yes, but a yoke given to us by God Himself to guide us with His Perfect Beautiful Love and guiding us to Heaven.
    Thank you Lord!!

  18. Rick says:

    Msgr. It would interesting to hear your thinking on ‘tolerance’ and its relation to kindness.

  19. Jim says:

    Thomas Merton recounts a memory of a sermon someone had preached inserting the word ‘A gentleman does… ‘ into the every spiritual and moral lesson from the Gospels.

  20. Ed says:

    http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/column.php?n=2707

    There’s an interesting article at Catholic News Agency about Nietzsche and how he predicted the downfall of Christianity because of its emphasis on “gentle moralism”, “benevolence” or “being nice”. With the emphasis on being nice(kind) other virtues would fall by the wayside. Evil must be confronted and exorcized, not just tickled with kindness.

  21. Jean Santi says:

    Just do the right thing for the right reason….may not seem like kindness but in the long run, it is.

  22. catherine says:

    The Church has been sending mixed signals on this topic for so long that I don’t know anybody who understands what is right or wrong regarding love and kindness. We have been being shamed into tolerating every manner of evil because if we don’t simply accept everyone for who they are and celebrate and rejoice in their uniqueness, we’re un-Christlike and judgmental.
    I agree with the post here regarding the definitions and distinction between the two. Could it be that it’s just too much work and invites too much controversy in the parish for the priests to speak the truth on this topic? It is simply easier to tell everyone just to be kind.

  23. remembering says:

    I loved your piece – then immediately read this from Francis: [Jesus told us: " You load many things on people's shoulders, when really only one thing is needed." This, therefore, is the "spiritual, mental" process of those who want the key in their pocket and the door closed. "Faith becomes ideology and ideologies scare, ideologies chase people away , far away, they distance people and they distance the Church from people. This is a serious illness, this Christian ideology. It is a disease , but it is not new , eh? Even the Apostle John, in his first letter, spoke of this . Christians who lose their faith and prefer ideologies . Their attitude: they become rigid moralists, ethicists , but without kindness. This could be the question to ask.  Why does a Christian become this way , what happens in the heart of the Christian, that of a priest, bishop, of a pope , who becomes so? Just one thing: that Christian does not pray . And if you do not pray, you will always keep the door closed".] While not dichotomous, it certainly requires attentive effort on our part to keep all these things at the fore of our minds.

  24. Gette says:

    Kindness (not ‘niceness’) is the virtue of Love put into action. True Kindness can be very difficult. It is always doing what is best for the other, at the expense of self. I recommend Fr Lawrence Lovasick’s great book, _The HIdden Power of Kindness_. Christ told us the greatest commandments are to Love God and Love Neighbor. Kindness is the practicial way of doing precisely this and Fr Lovasick’s book is the practical guide of it. I firmly believe that if each and every Catholic would read this book and put it into practice, this entire world would be utterly pararadise, the Kingdom of God literally on earth.

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