The Kindness Challenge: Thirty Days To Improve Any Relationship, by Shaunti Feldhahn
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Blogging For Books/Waterbrook. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
I found this book surprising in a number of ways. In reading this book, I expected the sort of book that serves as the centerpiece for a Christian-oriented movie, where someone who happens to be a bit of a curmudgeon reaches a point of crisis where his or her negativity threatens a marriage and job and is challenged to be kind for thirty days and finds it changes their lives. While the book’s tone and even the way in which the author wanted to lead a revolution of kindness to oppose the strident and ugly sort of public discourse that has become all too common is not surprising , what was surprising was the way in which the author opened up about her own struggles with social intelligence as a child and the way in which she sought to ground her advice in statistical data, with a large enough sample size to make the conclusions reasonably sound, although regrettably the author did not include the detailed crosstabs and statistical apparatus in this particular book for those of us who are most interested in data.
For the most part, the contents of this book are straightforward, and extremely ambitious in a good way. After a lot of comments in praise of the book at the beginning, which is usually the sign that the author is saying something provocative and wants the reader to see that a lot of people approve of the message beforehand, the book contains ten chapters and three parts. An introduction as to the importance of kindness leads into the first part of the book, where the author discusses why kindness matters, which contains five chapters on such topics as the surprising importance of a simple challenge, the immense power kindness has in influencing those around us, addressing concerns about kindness based on misunderstanding what it means, what kindness means in practice, and exposing the blindness many people have about their level of kindness. The second part of the book contains the book’s remaining chapters, which amount to an altar call for people to take the kindness challenge, encouraging readers to get rid of 7 types of negativity in their treatment of others, overcoming ten tricky traps that prevent us from praising others as we ought, eight types of kindness to try, giving male readers an alternative challenge where the reader is encouraged to pay attention to their wives and really listen for fifteen minutes, and then seek to implement these principles for life. The end of the book consists of three different thirty-day plans, depending on whether the reader wishes to do it for a husband, a wife, or anyone.
In reading this book, I found myself in rather alarming amounts. I suspect many readers will find this to be true in reading this book as well. The author clearly belongs to the school of thought that urges upon those who view themselves as being wronged by the sins of others–whether that means a cheating spouse or someone who has hurt one deeply through abuse and ridicule. This is a writer who takes the biblical injunctions about seeking peace and goodwill for all extremely seriously, and who sees in a lack of kindness and a lack of anyone to accept being wronged as being responsible for the drastic decay in our social fabric at present. I can’t say I blame her or disagree with her–I can certainly see myself as having some difficulties being kind to others, like my boss or like people with whom I am in serious and lasting disagreements, and I do not celebrate my own moments of irritation while dealing with people in my way, or the similar irritation and frustration and unkindness I see around me in the wreckage of broken relationships that one finds all around. I am not sure that I will take the kindness challenge myself, although there are certainly people in my life I could stand to be a lot more kind to. At least in the context of my life, the biggest issue I have with the book is the way that it places the burden of being kind on those who have suffered the most unkindness. Why should I have to be gracious to those who are ungracious to me, or kind to those who have been unkind and abusive? No doubt many people feel the same way, which makes this a book likely to be more appreciated than practiced.
 See, for example: