A Return to Kindness

Stuck behind computer and mobile screens, it is often easy to “make our voices heard” without considering the person on the other end. I think this new age online interaction has perhaps even started affecting the way we interact with others offline. Have we become less kind? I think this is a question we need to all ask ourselves, myself included! It’s almost too easy to be unkind, to be unaware and to judge others without the full story (yes, I’ve done it too).

‘Is hyperconnectivity actually making us less kind humans?’

The Irish Times recently shared an article asking this question. They posed a few interesting questions:

There’s something about the empowerment of communication through technology that actually disempowers.

Decisions aren’t made simply but teased out over hundreds of messages and GIFs. Are we crippled by choice and our ability to communicate every whim at our whim? Is hyperconnectivity actually making us less kind humans?

We have more channels to communicate through than ever before. So surely this has made us incredibly efficient. Why, then, has it taken 45 WhatsApp messages and 3½ hours to agree on a place for lunch with friends?

On top of this, has the expectation of always being contactable, always being on, made us more anxious? It’s hard to believe that there is no correlation between the two when there can be 153 messages exchanged across 13 groups on a “quiet day”. And that’s just on one channel of communication.

Ryan Holiday shared the following story about Jeff Bezos and his experience as a child. It gives us some real food for thought!

There is a story about Jeff Bezos from when he was a young boy. He was with his grandparents, both of whom were smokers. Bezos had recently heard an anti-smoking PSA on the radio that explained how many minutes each cigarette takes off a person’s lifespan. And so, sitting there in the backseat, like a typical precocious kid, he put his math skills and this new knowledge to work and proudly explained to his grandmother, as she puffed away, “You’ve lost nine years of your life, Grandma!”

The typical response to this kind of innocent cheekiness is to pat the child on the head and tell them how smart they are. Bezos’ grandmother didn’t do that. Instead, she quite understandably burst into tears. It was after this exchange that Bezos’ grandfather took his grandson aside and taught him a lesson that he says has stuck with him for the rest of his life. “Jeff,” his grandfather said, “one day you’ll understand that it’s harder to be kind than clever.”

Some people might say that young Bezos did nothing wrong. They’re just facts, and the truth hurts. How else do you expect someone to recognize the seriousness of what they’re doing to themselves? There’s something to that, but it captures the central conceit of a dangerous assumption we seem to have made as a culture these days: that being right is a license to be a total, unrepentant a******. After all, why would you need to repent if you haven’t committed the ultimate sin of being wrong? Some say there’s no reason to care about other people’s feelings if the facts are on your side.

Ryan goes on to say:

As we’ve become more polarized and more algorithmically sorted, we care a lot less about the people who think differently than us and put little effort into persuading them. That’s because persuasion is no longer the goal—it’s signaling. And with signaling, it’s vehemence that matters, not quality. The constraints of social media also reduce the space for any nuance or qualification you might be inclined to offer; 140 characters or even 240 does not leave much room for humility or kindness. And the desire for viral sharing heightens the need for aggressive, simplistic arguments.

While I have seen the bad side of things, and definitely a decline in kindness, I am also so grateful that technology allows me to connect with friends and family who are so very far away! I have also been lucky to experience and see how people use technology to help and show kindness to others.

A cute example of this, is the mealtrain.com website. Have you seen it? You can use it to organise meals for a friend after a birth, surgery or illness. It’s pretty awesome! I don’t know the developers or company, but came across it after a friend needed some meals. There are so many ways to be kind, if we can be kind, let’s be kind ♥ It doesn’t cost a thing!

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