Kindness is strength. But try telling that to children | Emma Brockes

The belief is rife in our culture that this great virtue is essentially a consolation prize indistinguishable from weakness

If you are a parent of young children who browses parenting websites, you will at some point have been pitched to about talent. You may be invited, via targeted advertising, to enrol your child in a Future School Global Maths Skill Assessment – “to see how they compare to peers globally”. You may be urged to consider the possibility – nay, probability – that they are “gifted” in some way, if not in maths, then in music or art. It’s window-dressing for lame subscription services, but the other day, assailed by this stuff, a line caught my eye that I haven’t been able to forget. “Talent isn’t everything,” read the copy. “The important thing is to teach your child to be kind.”

This positioning of “kindness” as oppositional to “talent” – and the impossibility, by implication, of a predisposition towards kindness itself being regarded as “talent” – is rife once you start looking for it. Kindness is, everywhere: the consolation prize, the donkey in the nativity play, the award for perfect attendance. The metric for gifted is limited in childhood to measurable and therefore narrow results; a child might learn to read early, but disciplines requiring maturity for their impact are sealed off as forms of prodigiousness. There are no seven-year-old fiction writing prodigies. There are no prodigies in kindness, either.

Emma Brockes is a Guardian columnist

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Category: Mental Health