Kill ‘Em with [Passive Aggressive] Kindness

Selena Gomez

I’m not entirely sure how it happened, but it took me far too long to realize that my Spotify had been playing Selena Gomez’s “Kill ‘Em With Kindness” on loop for nearly an hour. In listening, I found that I immediately loved it. Then I had mixed feelings. And then I hated how it pointed out something with which I struggle: passive aggressive kindness.

The world can be a nasty place
You know it, I know it, yeah
We don’t have to fall from grace
Put down the weapons you fight with…

The song opens with an observation: at times, it can feel like there are people who make my life difficult.  Whether it’s a matter of our personalities or beliefs clashing, it feels like a struggle between this other person and myself. Maybe they work differently, or I blame them for adding to my own work. Either way, I’m stuck trying to decide how to address them. Selena takes this feeling and points out my choice: I can either fight back or I can be kind. It’s a simple enough decision, but in the moment I find it hard to not “fall from grace.” Putting down my weapons, as Selena says, means admitting that what I’m taking personally may not be intended that way. It means putting down my defensiveness and accepting that I might be partially to blame for the tension. Of course, my gut says: “No way! I’m completely innocent.” Selena addresses my response with the second verse:

We’re running out of time; Chasing our lies
Everyday a small piece of you dies
Always somebody
You’re willing to fight, to be right
Your lies are bullets; Your mouth’s a gun
And no war and anger, Was ever won
Put out the fire before igniting
Next time you’re fighting…

I love Selena’s reference to “running out of time; chasing our lies” and how all this leads to small pieces of me dying. It becomes so easy to make things a battle, but what’s at stake? Is it just a matter of me being able to claim that I was “right” while refusing to care or be kind to the other? That sounds like the trap of feeding my own ego. And as Selena points out, I could have “put out the fire before igniting” or even just realized that “no war in anger, was ever won.” So something more is called for from me… And it’s here in the chorus where I begin to disagree with Selena:

Kill ’em with kindness
Kill ’em with kindness
Kill ’em, kill ’em, kill ’em with kindness
Kill ’em with kindness
Kill ’em with kindness
Go ahead, go ahead, go ahead now

Selena’s chorus sings the familiar adage of “kill them with kindness.” It sounds like Jesus from Luke, “bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you” (6:28) or maybe Jesus from Matthew, “love your enemies…” (5:44). But even if it sounds vaguely similar, there is a fundamental difference between Jesus’s recommendation and Selena’s phrase: the motivation behind the kindness.

If we look at the words of the song, while they do call for kindness, they link that kindness to a type of assault or offensive. It’s kindness out of spite, not love. The repetition within the chorus—“Kill ‘em, kill ‘em, kill ‘em with kindness”—highlights the “kill” over the “kindness.”

I agree with Selena that kindness is something that we should show to others, particularly those with whom we don’t see eye to eye. But after listening to Selena’s song for an hour, I began to realize how often I fall into the trap of treating kindness as a way to “get back at” or “attack” the other. Instead of allowing my motivation to be some sort of passive aggressive attitude, what I should strive for is a kindness motivated by love. Of course that kind of kindness is harder to achieve than passive aggressiveness, but my motivations matter.

Passive aggression–even when masquerading as kindness–is still fundamentally aggression. It pushes people further away, creating divisions and continuing arguments. True kindness is an expression of love, and it is motivated by love. So instead of acting like kindness is a weapon to be wielded to defeat the other, perhaps a better way to view kindness is as a sort of balm to heal our divisions.

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Cover image courtesy FlickrCC user Amanda Nobles, found here.

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