NewsThe difference between extravagance and kindness

March 21, 2016

Kindness can take so many forms; the smile of acceptance from a stranger, the ready shoulder of an old friend, the honest words of confidante who means well and has your best interests at heart. The problem is that, sometimes, when you are in a bad place, genuine kindness doesn’t always feel kind! But if it is extended in a genuine way, time will help you to understand and appreciate it as it is intended. Of course, the opposite is also true. For anyone who has been on the receiving end of so-called ‘help’ from a person extending it out of misguided obligation (usually to someone else but by proxy, to you), it feels very different to kindness. It feels controlling and often manipulative. It is the clearest distinction between extravagance and kindness.

When people help you in a way that they deem appropriate, it is not coming from a place of kindness, but of control. Control is exerted through manipulation. The offer of help is left dangling on a string, subject to you behaving in a certain way. It is made available but is not freely given, it must be requested. The giver needs to hear you ask, the giver needs to see you weakened as they need to see themselves as your saviour. This is their only source of strength. Your weakening is as important to them as their strengthening – this is the true motivation, not kindness, not love, but power. People who ‘help’ in this manner will only do so in accordance with what they believe is right for you. They are feeling powerless within their own lives and are willing to pay to feel power over someone else’s life. They will help you the way they believe you need to be helped not in the way you might ask or in a way that might actually be best. Their control, and by default, your lack of control, is the true cost of the help to you. Act independently and this help will almost certainly be withdrawn. Independence of thought, clarity, personal strength and an improvement in circumstances will decrease your dependence on your helper and this will cause the tension as manipulative people can only maintain relationships where they feel in control. Where the manipulator can no longer control you, they will try to control other people’s perceptions of you – particularly in familial situations. While this might be successful for a period of time, people will eventually see through this to the underlying reality.

Similarly, gift-giving, while it is an expression of kindness, it is the least convincing. Kindness comes from a selfless place of wanting benefit of some kind for the other person, the receiver. Extravagance, on the other hand, is only concerned with satisfying the needs of the giver – how the giver will appear to the receiver and to the world at large. It is typified by the adult child who buys their parents expensive gift or holidays to avoid having to spend time with them. The longer the absence, the worse the feelings of avoidance guilt, the more extravagant the gift. Such repetitive shows of extravagance are not acts of kindness but rather manipulative acts of fulfilling a heightened sense of duty in the most hands-off but face-saving way possible. For the receiver, this is hurtful behaviour. The giver is most likely unaware.

Over time, people will inevitably see past the gift, to the underlying manipulation. It exposes the giver. Extravagance towards others without kindness leaves the receiver feeling cold.

Explosive living strips everything back to the integrity of the situation. This clear thinking teaches us the difference between extravagance and kindness, and particularly highlights acts of extravagance without kindness. When we recognise ourselves or others in this pattern, we must question the basis of the relationship and try to identify the emotion that the extravagant act is masking? It is not an act of love. It might be guilt, shame, remorse or people-pleasing, but never love.  The easiest way to tell the difference is with the feelings created; kindness is for the receiver, extravagance is for the giver; kindness gives time, extravagance gives anything that can be purchased.

Reject extravagance without kindness, you don’t ever need it. There is an opportunity to be kind everyday. There is not always a benefit or even an acknowledgement but if you are coming from a place of authentic kindness, this is simply not important. True kindness costs nothing but it gets you closer to the best version of yourself.

Carol Tallon