With a talented cast featuring Lily James as Cinderella, Cate Blanchett as Lady Tremaine, and Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother, and a storyline exploring character motives and the cultivation of positive values, this is a film that is sure to be a new favorite among many. Though there were several ‘feel good’ moments and the visual magic was stunning, what intrigued me personally, was the prominent message of consistently choosing to be kind, no matter the circumstance.
Kindness is a trait not often praised by society. We live in a world where too often wit and bluntness are valued over kindness. We are often praised for ‘putting someone in their place’, using our words as weapons to defend our own hearts or attack those we perceive to pose some sort of threat to our well-being. Aggression, sarcasm, and harshness have become commonplace in not only conflict, but everyday conversation, cleverly disguised as wit, intelligence, passion, honesty, and at times humor. We are a society that has forgotten how to be kind.
But oh we have mastered the art of being nice.
Kindness is not synonymous with being nice. The Huffington Post ran an article a few years ago entitled “The Difference Between Being Nice and Being Kind” (read it here) that featured an interesting description of kindness- “The way I understand it, kindness emerges from someone who’s confident, compassionate and comfortable with themselves. A kind person is loving and giving out of the goodness of their heart.” Kindness is an outpouring of what is in our hearts. Niceness on the other hand, is merely a facade, a mask that we wear for our own gain or protection (for this analogy by Heather Mather see here).
A person can only be nice for so long before the game is up. Exhaustion from the constant drain of responding with the ‘nice’ answer and hiding or denying our own feelings eventually leads us to a breakdown, the proverbial showdown with our antagonist as so often portrayed in movies. Being nice often just leads us into situations where we allow ourselves to be taken advantage of because we are afraid of the consequences of our ‘no.’ I have personally been there more times than I can count.
What is Kindness?
Kindness can take many forms, including acts of generosity or service, timely words of encouragement, comforting those who mourn, etc. Galatians talks about kindness being a ‘fruit of the spirit’, those qualities that become manifested in those who follow Jesus (Galatians 5:22-23a).
Kindness is not only a human trait, but also a character trait attributed to God. Titus 3:4-5 says “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” According to Romans 2:4, it is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. It is through the kindness of God that salvation is possible.
It is interesting to me that Christians are so often known for their judgment of others and not for their kindness. If we are truly engaged in relationship with God (as the phrase is so proudly stated “it’s not religion, it’s a relationship”), should we not be known for being a people of kindness?
Oftentimes I see remarkable kindness in the church when it comes to giving or service. We love to serve those we perceive as in need, and we love to give good gifts. But kindness in our speech can become much more difficult. Kindness involves considering the effect of our words on others as well as our own motivations for selecting those words.
Gossip, slander (tearing down another), harshness- these are not kind. And yet, they often run rampant through our churches as well as our relationships.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
Our words have power. Day after day Ella was called a worthless servant by her stepmother and stepsisters until she began to believe that maybe there was some truth there. This happens in everyday life far too often. The descriptions we give to others often have far greater impact than we perceive in our rashness.
“Have Courage and Be Kind”
When I first saw the previews for Cinderella, I was curious about the link between courage and kindness suggested by the motto. Were they two qualities randomly picked and juxtaposed against each other, or was there a purposeful link drawn between the two?
As I watched and began to reflect on my own experience, I began to realize that kindness does require great courage.
Forgiving someone who has caused much injury and pain…
Responding to injustice with grace instead of bitterness…
Serving those who are difficult to love…
Reacting to an undesirable situation with grace…
Any act of kindness first begins with an act of courage.
One thing that I loved about Cinderella was watching Ella’s reaction to the mistreatment she received at the hand of her stepmother and stepsisters. Though Ella wrestled with the pain of abuse, she chose not to adopt a victim mentality and did not allow place in her life for cruelty or retaliation. Instead, she made a conscious decision to stay (for her own reasons described in the film) and to choose courage and kindness, rather than allowing her heart to become bitter and jaded. But her kindness did not keep her from recognizing that how she was being treated was wrong. She recognized the hurtful behavior and reacted, but chose to respond with truth tempered in kindness, rather than reciprocating the unkindness she encountered on a daily basis.
Being kind does not mean that we ignore the wrongs done to us and does not invalidate our pain. But rather, kindness tempers our response to those around us.
We can choose to set healthy boundaries, have difficult conversations, and address injustice without using our words as daggers, meant to hurt our opponent while empowering ourselves. We can choose to be direct and speak truth without giving space to gossip, slander, meanness, cruelty, or harshness. We can choose to be a people of kindness.
As I began to explore this concept of kindness, I began to realize that it is not easy to choose a kind response when I am angry or hurt or my sense of justice has been offended. I have always been a fighter and I want to fight back, landing blows until my perception of wrongdoing has been righted. But as I watched Cinderella, something stirred in my heart. This year I have desired to be a strong and courageous woman, but recently, I have begun to desire to cultivate kindness into my life as well.
And so began the first steps of an interesting journey. As I began to encounter situations where everything in me wanted to fight, I began to stop and pray before responding with automatic defensiveness. Realizing the power of my words and remembering the Scriptures about kindness that my mother had taught me long ago, I became desperate to not sin in my anger. To choose truthful, but kind responses. As I began to cultivate kindness, I began to realize multiple areas of my life where I had believed my responses to be righteous indignation, but in reality, I had allowed bitterness and harshness into my heart.
I have been the ‘nice’ girl for many years. But being the ‘nice’ girl has done nothing more than provide a mask for my true emotions, a facade that has cracked many times, unleashing a mass of fierce and difficult to control anger. Though I am still learning, I am discovering that harshness and unkindness do not bring peace. Purposefully wounding another does not bring empowerment. Choosing to use my words to cut, though it may provide temporary satisfaction, only ends in damaged relationships and guilt. It is only through kindness that I have begun to discover peace.
And so my challenge is this.
When anger, hurt, disappointment, rage, etc flow through your veins, consider taking a moment to stop. Consider letting time slow and pray before formulating a response. Take a few deep breaths. Pray for kindness. Pray for truth. Pray for righteousness.
Let us not be a people of harshness any longer. Let us become a people of kindness, one word at a time.
“Have courage and be kind.”