Choosing Kindness

By Miranda Hopkins

“You won’t understand what I mean now, but someday you will: the only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you are—not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving—and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad—or good—it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well.” – Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life.

Platonic love is written about, painted, photographed, and exhibited everywhere you go. This macroscopic obsession is second to none, except, perhaps – and perhaps misguidedly – romantic love. It finds its way into our conversations and gossips, diary entries and quiet reflections, and our art. It is mused over, cried over, celebrated, and mourned. Next to romantic relationships, friendships elicit emotions that are both unmatched in power, and
at the very essence of our experience in this world as sentient beings. And it is this, I think, that ought to be celebrated on Valentine’s Day.

I can hardly claim to be an expert at friendships; I have made a hash of many. But, overwhelmingly, my young-adult years have been blessed by a number of enriching friendships from which I have learned a lot. Here, I want to put pen to paper and share the three things I have learned from the friendships that have gone some way in shaping who I am today.

The first thing I have learned, then, is that kindness is never a waste of time

The first thing I have learned, then, is that kindness is never a waste of time. This is true of all social interactions, but particularly those that give us so much and ask for so little. When Charlie Mackesy’s horse said ‘’Nothing beats kindness… It sits quietly beyond all things’’, people of all generations were being reminded of something so base, yet easily and often forgotten. Kindness is a mosaic made up of many small yet remarkable qualities. Call it thoughtfulness, mindfulness, consideration, or accommodation, kindness is handwritten letters; gifting someone flowers; reading a book and lending it to the friend it made you think of; inviting people to share your time, doing any number of things, or nothing at all. Kindness is the sentiment ‘I thought of you’, in spoken and unspoken manifestations.

Friendships are enclaves where the boundaries can be tested, and the type of person you want to become becomes clearer

Mackesy’s horse is wise, but if kindness sits behind these acts of kindness, so too does intention. In every friend who has picked up a pen and written a letter, licked the envelope and bought a stamp, there is intention. In the culture of convenience that seems to pervade in a compact city like Durham, where nothing really takes much exertion (except, perhaps, Cardiac Hill, or walking from Neville’s Cross to Gilesgate), we do not often get the opportunity to demonstrate the lengths we would go for our friends, and because of this ease, I think we sometimes forget we have to. Having made some wonderful friends during my year abroad in Paris, friends who have likewise since returned to their home countries (because, let’s face it, no one becomes friends with the Parisiennes themselves), I have felt the full force of intentionality from those who have maintained this friendship of inconvenience.

As formless components, kindness and intentionality blend into each other, and it is their ability to shape-shift that gives them power in our fluid, impermanent world. It was once explained to me that when we grow as people, we create room for those around us to grow into; and if people choose not to fill that space, we have to let them go. To add to my earlier definition of kindness, I’d say that kindness is also forgiveness, honesty, patience, and seeing someone not only for who they are, but for who they are becoming. And so, this is the last and most important lesson I have learned about friendship: people grow and change, and if we do not choose to grow when the opportunity arises, we risk getting left behind. Friendships are enclaves where the boundaries can be tested, and the type of person you want to become becomes clearer. At the heart of Yanagihara’s quote is the idea that friendships should inspire you, and that life is illuminated by those friendships that encourage you to be kind, intentional, and grow. Valentine’s Day marks another year of conditional, platonic love; here is your reminder to celebrate it.

Image: Pixabay via Pexels

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