I want to begin by saying that I am no expert on kindness. I have unkind moments myself and I am certainly still learning how to be kinder to others (and myself) every day. That being said, I care a lot about kindness and always try to be as kind as possible. I think my love of it comes from watching how kind my own family is with respect to other people. Both my father and my mother share everything they ever have, and it is contagious to be around souls like that. People who cut the bigger slice for you and take the smaller slice for themselves. I think that is one reason why I found the environment in philosophy hard to deal with. In a lot of ways, being a member of a philosophy department, at least in the UK, is like watching people hide full pies from people they claim to like.
I’ll stop talking about pie for now, but my point in the last section is important. Why are so many philosophers reluctant to share what they have with others? Because (at least in the UK) we are being taught to be competitive rather than co-operative. We are taught that if we are to have any success at all, we have to do so independently. We have to submit journal articles on our own. We have to submit funding applications by ourselves. We apply for jobs alone. And we have to compete with everyone for these positions. Because of this, collaboration, and sharing pie, is out of the window. In times like this, it is hard to be kind.
But kindness still matters. Kindness matters as an end in itself. It matters because sharing what you have with others (whether that be resources, compassion, knowledge) and being generous is one of the best ways to connect with those around you. It matters because we live in a world where people are constantly being beaten down by norms they can’t live up to and kindness acts as the gentle pat on the back to remind people that they don’t have to be perfect all of the time. It matters because, due to the surge in social media, people, particularly young people, feel ridiculously lonely and out of place. Kindness aims to reach out and change that horrible feeling for others. It matters because the world is divided, and kindness aims to bring it together.
With that said, how can we make our philosophy departments kinder? I’ve created a short list of pointers from my own experience of running a Women* in Philosophy (W*IP) group last year:
Kindness starts with opening your heart to others, but before you do that you first have to open your eyes and ears. Actively start looking around your department. Are people happy? What exactly are your peers saying to you? How are people treating each other during seminars and debates? Are minority voices being prioritized or falling through the net? How much micro-aggressive behaviour is present in your department? Listen to those around you and if anyone is feeling uncomfortable start to take steps to make them feel better (even if the first step is making them a cup of tea).
Kindness involves sharing your pie. Have you learnt something at a conference, or gained a new resource, which would help others in your cohort? Go ahead and pass it around. Do you know of an event happening which others would be interested in too? Share the event in a message and organise everyone to go together to said event.
Kindness involves encouragement of the right kinds of behaviours and discouragement of the wrong kinds of behaviours. Encourage people to participate who haven’t been participating. If the environment is not conducive to some agents participating, go about creating an environment which is. Discourage aggressive behaviour amongst your peers and tell your peers why it makes you feel uncomfortable. And, please, for everyone’s sake, stop mansplaining if you see it. The world would be a better place without it.
Kindness involves being kind to yourself. Do not dwell on your failures and forgive yourself for messing up. We all do it. You got this, but if you feel like you don’t, groups like MAP UK or W*IP have you.
Peace, love, kindness, and biscuits please folks.
Em Walsh is a PhD student at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Pronouns: she/her