First Person

Kindness, kinship, and the boundaries of justice

The virtue of kindness depends on who we see as kin.

On the last day of the writers’ conference, the leader asked us to get into groups of two or three and pray for each other. He also told us to ask the Spirit to give us “a word” for our prayer partner—a word that would encourage the other person and stay with them. My partner was a petite poet a decade younger than I, with wide eyes and dyed hair.

“Amy is kind,” she prayed.

My immediate reaction to the word was distaste. It was as if I’d been given a Thomas Kinkade painting when I wanted a Picasso. The term seemed sentimental rather than strong. I wasn’t sure I was kind. And I wasn’t sure I wanted to be kind.