One of the most dangerous narratives we have in our culture currently is this idea that kindness is free. In the current reality of our world, we feel frustrated that there isn’t more compassion. I hear people say, “Why aren’t people more kind to each other? It doesn’t cost you anything.” And I’m like, “No, it definitely does.”
The sort of kindness that I think drives cultural change requires us to spend our time, our energy, our efforts. At a deeper level, it costs us empathy and listening. I think it costs us discipline and reprioritization. And probably the biggest cost for most people is comfort.
Deep kindness that makes real change is about observing and meeting needs. That’s where empathy plays a huge role. If I don’t spend time first identifying what people are going through, what they’re navigating, what they actually need, then my kindness is going to typically serve me more than it does the person on the far side.
My mom navigated stage 4 colon cancer. And when someone’s going through something really challenging like that, people come out of the woodwork to show support. And you realize that some people are way more effective at being helpful in those situations than others.
For example, people will drop by meals without asking if meals are needed. My mom literally didn’t have room for the meals, or they were dropping off things that were not a part of her diet as she was navigating chemotherapy.
Sometimes we forget that the question “How can I help?” puts the responsibility on the person who’s actively suffering to come up with an answer. To me, the most practical way you can help people who are navigating pain is to think about who that person is in your life and what you know about them.
Provide them with two choices. Say, “Hey, would it be helpful for me to give you an Uber Eats gift card? Or is it more helpful for me to come and sweep your kitchen?” It reduces the burden on the person suffering to have to take responsibility to ask for help, especially if they don’t necessarily know what they need in that moment.
When her sister died three years ago, Ms. Ingersoll joined the ranks of older Americans considered “kinless”: without partners or spouses, children...