Wednesday, April 20, 2022

The Dark Side of Kindness

There are some who assume that the terrible nurse I battled on day 4 of Gerardo's hospitalization/recovery was terrible because perhaps she had been "unkind." That is an incorrect assumption and speaks to our society's infatuation with the notion that kindness is the salve to most of society's ills.

The nurse hadn't been unkind. She was full of gestures that are characteristic of kindness—like smiles and  polite greetings. Heck, I wouldn't be surprised if her wardrobe contains a graphic tee that says "be kind." 

Coupled with such characteristics were incompetence, exaggerations, incomplete information, and a nervousness of knowing she was in over her head in terms of a specific medical intervention that she tried to fix though she was unqualified to do so, and made worse, causing unnecessary pain and suffering.

When I called her on it, she dialed up the belittling care by putting her hand on my shoulder and amping up the "kind" and "let me nursplain to you what you don't know" posture.

When I told her to take her hand off of my shoulder, she was shocked. 

And perhaps some would argue that I was being unkind.

And I would argue back that kindness has nothing to do with it. The reason I take issue with our society's blind infatuation with kindness is because it doesn't recognize the dark side of kindness, which frequently leads to turning a blind eye to what is wrong in the moment, as we or our loved ones become walked all over, in the name of nice.

Language is another tool that people use to dispense belittling care. Which is why I'm skeptical of strangers who use terms of endearment (e.g., honey, sweetie, babe, my love, etc.) too quickly. Such language (like the hand on the shoulder) has a way of creating hierarchy and distorting the specifics of reality.


After an exhausting week of hospital recovery, Gerardo is home and resting. This incident of having survived surgery for a strangulated hernia adds a new dimension of care at home. 

Thank you to my loving and supportive friends. 


  1. Oh Jenny, per usual, you hit the mail on the head. You called it being kind, but to me it’s being “nice” which, also to me, a merely an affect that lacks any modicum of authenticity. The way she responded to you is so patronizing and, again, so inauthentic. I’m sad that this happened and I’m doubly sad that it happened at a time when you so desperately need genuine compassion and competency.

  2. See, I'm not sure what to think of this. I'm a nurse and a case manager. I approach every situation with the idea that we can solve the problem. I admit, I did have to seriously work to wean myself from calling any adult patient "sweetie" , but that was a carry over from decades in pediatrics. But I think I've tamed that urge.

    I believe that kindness is extremely important. It's the basis of a 20+ year career and something that I hold very close as a personal philosophy. So many people are fueled by anger. We need kindness to balance that. I also strongly believe the best way to help yourself is to help others who are suffering. I've lived my life this way.

    We want to help. That's why we became Healthcare professionals. We want to comfort you. To soothe away anxiety and pain. We hurt when our patients hurt and believe me, we absolutely cry when they cry.

    It's hard to admit when you're in over your head in the nursing arena, because it's still very much a culture of professional bullying and an "eat your young" mentality. Old experienced nurses feel like they've earned their stripes and if a younger nurse is struggling, it builds character or something. I don't know,
    I don't suscribe to that but I see it all the time, young Nurses afraid to ask.

    This doesn't make excuses for anyone or anything that you experienced, but it is a real problem in the field and should be considered.

    Nurses are also experiencing a huge shift in the way they are being treated. Incidents of abuse of health care workers are rising significantly. We are hit, bit, spit on, peed on,pooped on, vomited on, kicked and called horrible names constantly and in many instances we are expected to suck it up and shut up, as part of patient care. It's traumatic though. And it creates this need to calm and soothe an upset patient or family member when you feel their frustration or tension. To try to calm a storm before it stops.

    This nurse could have been acting out of any of the above conditions, or none at all. But I think it is important to understand what many of us face in our careers in health care, as a patient and family member.

    Nurses collectively are experiencing high rates of genuine PTSD, caregiver burnout and just burnout in general. Nurses are changing careers at an alarming rate. We're expected to be ON all the time, no errors in judgment. Never let the smile falter. We're held accountable for every complaint that the hospital receives. We're often denied PTO requests, changing schedules and even taking lunches is difficult. Nurses are held a accountable to their license, even when the doctor made the mistake. And now we're being jailed for medication errors (that case in Tennessee had many Nurses leaving the field permanently.

    It's extremely difficult to see things from an experience you haven't lived yourself. I wasn't there. I'm not that nurse. I don't know the whole story. But I can speak to my own lived experience and we're humans. And we exhausted.

    1. I worked in nursing for years. Everything you’ve said is so true. I’ve seen first hand the abuse nurses receive from patients doctors and family members. It’s extremely debilitating. Nurses take the brunt of everyone’s frustration and are expected to smile through it. There are incompetent medical professionals, but in my experience Nurses intelligence and competence are routinely questioned by everyone deserved or not. I have empathy for anyone who experiences incompetent medical care on any level. It’s a real thing it happens, but sometimes the nurse is a convenient target for frustration anger and grief from everyone.