What is the word I’m looking for?
It isn’t “love”, even though that’s the first thing that comes to mind. It gets at the right idea, but it’s too broad, it means too many different things to different people. And it’s a bit more extreme than I mean anyways — what I’m talking about doesn’t require something as hard to come by (or grow!) as love.
It isn’t “caring” or “empathy” either. They’re ingredients necessary to cook up the word I am trying to come up with, but just ingredients, right, not the whole meal. And besides, it feels to me like these words focus too much on the near-term, moment-to-moment aspects — the act of delivering hard or uncomfortable feedback to someone who needs to hear it wouldn’t be described as “emphatic behavior”, but it is an example of what I’m thinking of.
“Humanity” is out almost immediately. It tops love in the rankings of “means different things to different people”, and rightfully so – history has shown our species to be compassionate, cruel, and everything in between, so at this point I’m not sure the word “humanity” means anything at all honestly.
Is it “vulnerability”, or in a similar vein “gentleness”? I think we’re getting closer with these. They start to get at the internal feelings and hardships people go through, and how we should navigate them. Still, my word isn’t about actively showing kindness to people experiencing difficult situations, it’s more about just having respect for the fact that people are in fact experiencing them (even if we can’t always see it).
And, maybe that’s my word then, “respect”? Respect for another person’s history, for their experiences, for both who they are now and who they’re going to be? Respect for their quality of life, for their needs, and the needs of their family? For their intelligence, their sense of dignity, even when it doesn’t make sense to us or is inconvenient?
I think that gets at the idea pretty well. For me, to do right by others is to have respect for them, and it’s something I want to always put the highest priority on both giving and (ideally, hah) receiving.