Even if you had only just heard of the Seven Heavenly Virtues for the first time, it would likely not surprise you to learn that kindness was on the list. In fact, it is the first virtue we have covered that mostly stands on its own. Courage is required for diligence, while temperance and chastity both require a great deal of prudence. But even people who possess none of these qualities are generally aware that they should be nice to other people; however, there is actually more to the concept of kindness than simply treating others with respect.
The sheer concept of kindness may stand on its own, but as with the rest of the Seven Heavenly Virtues that we have covered so far, there are several behaviors through which a person may exhibit kindness. We often did not engage in these behaviors during active addiction, preferring instead to mire ourselves in selfishness and stubbornness. Even if there were others in our lives for whom we felt a truly great sense of love and affection, we sometimes treated them cruelly when we felt as if they were standing in between us and our next fix. It is difficult to be kind to others when thinking only of oneself.
Fortunately, our entry into sobriety has provided us with a chance to make up for these past wrongs. If you are feeling guilt over the way you have treated others in the past, it is time to begin understanding and embracing the concept of kindness as one of life’s greatest virtues. The practice of kindness in all of our affairs—even those involving people who inspire anger and resentments within us—will allow us to become far better people in sobriety than we had ever been before. At the very least, better than we have been in a long, long time.
Defining Kindness as a Heavenly Virtue
Many cultures across time have defined kindness as a virtuous attribute. In Aristotle’s Rhetoric, kindness is portrayed as being in line with charity, a virtue this series has yet to cover.
Kindness—under the influence of which a man is said to “be kind”—may be defined as helpfulness towards some one in need, not in return for anything, nor for the advantage of the helper himself, but for that of the person helped.
But despite this definition, true kindness does not have to be charitable. Sometimes, kindness is offered not because a person is in need, but because it is simply the right thing to do. Such a form of kindness is mentioned in numerous religious and spiritual texts. For instance, the Bible contains multiple passages evoking the ethic of reciprocity, known more commonly as the Golden Rule. One particularly notable passage from Leviticus 19:18 is as follows:
“Forget about the wrong things people do to you, and do not try to get even. Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
This is clearly a statement against wrath, although it is worth noting that kindness is generally considered to be the opposite of envy whenever the Seven Heavenly Virtues are juxtaposed against the Seven Deadly Sins. It is certainly true that envy can spur us to wish vengeance upon another person, but those who are kind will see that not everyone we envy has gone out of their way to make us feel bad about ourselves. Sometimes they truly deserve what they have. And even if they don’t, it is not the place of the truly kind-hearted individual to decide what a person does or does not deserve. If we cannot forgive someone—especially someone who has caused us no direct harm—we have not embodied the virtue of kindness by a long shot.
Kindness is more than just compassion and forgiveness, however. It is ingrained into our very mindset, our outlook on other people in general. As such, it requires such attributes as trust, loyalty, and empathy. It exists in our hearts and in our minds every bit as much as it exists in our actions and behaviors. This is not to say that we will never notice a person’s faults. But instead of judging them harshly, we will view them much as we view ourselves—as flawed yet potentially good-hearted individuals. If we want others to see the good in us, we must do our part and make an effort to see the good in them as well.
Kindness’ Role in Addiction Recovery
Through the practice of kindness toward other human beings, we will learn how to accept them. And to a certain degree, we will learn quite a bit about our capacity to love others as well. Addicts and alcoholics can sometimes become somewhat numb over the course of active addiction, so it is important to get back in touch with our emotions in this fashion. This is especially true when the emotions in question will allow us to treat others with greater compassion.
This sense of love for others will be especially vital to those who begin recovery in our programs, or through 12-step organizations such as AA and NA. These programs require fellowship, a sense of community and cooperation built upon a long-standing tradition of group unity. Love and tolerance are required for such programs to thrive, and those who are unable to embrace the practice of kindness will inevitably find themselves struggling to get along with other recovering addicts and alcoholics. It can be easy to judge others in recovery, but we must endeavor to remember that we ourselves have committed many wrongdoings due to our addictions.
Kindness will also play heavily into our practice of the Twelve Steps, especially Step Nine. If we are honest when making our Step Eight list, we will inevitably be required to make amends to people against whom we hold resentments, whether due to envy or for seemingly more justifiable reasons. But when making these amends, we cannot focus upon our anger toward the people in question. We must focus only on cleaning our side of the street. This is when kindness will most strongly test our capacity to forgive and forget.
Additionally, we must bear in mind that trust and loyalty factor into the concept of kindness as a virtue. Many of the people we have wronged, especially close friends and family, will struggle to regain their trust in us for the first few months or even years that we are in sobriety. No matter how frustrating this gets, we must still treat them as we would want to be treated. If we are frigid and demanding, their trust may never return. They must see us as people who truly wish to remove our character defects. Once this is achieved, we will be able to take comfort in our support network, for it will be full of people with whom we share a mutual sense of kindness and respect. This will serve to greatly strengthen our sobriety as we move forward.
Learning to Favor Kindness Over Envy
While they were not mentioned excessively in the preceding paragraphs, those we envy will present us with a unique challenge when it comes to the practice of kindness. Furthermore, we will find that kindness can sometimes cause our envy to increase if we are not careful. If we feel a person does not share the attributes that we are trying to develop, it will be exceptionally painful to see this person succeed in social relationships or other pursuits. We may feel that we are more deserving, and our envy will cause our kindness to slip away.
Many confuse envy with jealousy. They are not the same thing, but jealousy is still worthy of mention. When we are jealously guarding our relationship with someone, we are not exhibiting the level of trust required by kindness as defined by the Seven Heavenly Virtues. In some instances, our suspicions may prove accurate. But we never know for sure that this will happen, and it is not worth tanking our relationships on the mere off-chance that we might have been right. Trust and loyalty are essential to maintaining healthy relationships. If said trust turns out to be misplaced, we will eventually find out.
In some cases, we will find it all but impossible to exhibit kindness toward certain people. There are, to be certain, some extreme cases in which people will not merit any demonstration of warmth on our part. The problem is that our resentments can poison our good will toward those who had nothing to do with the circumstances in question. When we are carrying an excessive load of anger in our hearts, we often spew bile at those who are far from deserving of such treatment. In order to let go of this anger and rekindle our sense of kindness and good will toward others, we should remember that the opposite of resentment is gratitude. By attempting to find a lesson that can be learned or an unexpected benefit we stand to gain from whichever circumstance that is troubling us, we can move forward with a much greater sense of positivity.
Kindness is essential if we wish to lead lives of serenity and happiness. It allows us to overcome our negative emotions, replacing them with far more positive ones. Not only will our relationships with others improve, but we will find over time that we have a far greater image of ourselves as well. This moment, when we can feel the benefits of our own virtuous living, is the moment at which we will find kindness and virtue have started to become second-nature to us.