Naomi Shihab Nye's poem "Kindness" appears in her first collection of poems, Different Ways to Pray, published in 1980. The tone, themes, and ideas presented in this inaugural volume establish Nye's core message as a poet and as a human being: All of humanity is worthy of respect, deserving of consideration, and in need of kindness. "Kindness" is reprinted in Nye's 1995 collection Words under the Words, which compiles selections from her first three books: Different Ways to Pray, Hugging the Jukebox (1982), and Yellow Glove (1986).
The poet's many travels have taken her to some of the world's most prosperous countries and thriving cities as well as to some of the harshest and poorest lands, where violence, hunger, and injustice are common. One such place is Colombia, a country in northwestern South America. In Colombia, the natural beauty of a lush landscape with mountains and rivers is sometimes overshadowed by the ugliness of social oppression, government corruption, drug trafficking, and violent crime. Somewhere within this ironic blend of nature's magnificence and society's decadence, Nye finds a reason to believe in the power of simple acts of kindness. This belief is the inspiration for her poem of the same name, which signs off with the single word "Colombia" below the work's final line. In the original version in Different Ways to Pray, the poem ends with "(Colombia, 1978)."
Despite its attention to loss and desolation, "Kindness" is a positive poem with an optimistic ending. It acknowledges the unavoidable presence of sorrow in human life but points out that one must understand and accept the bad in order to appreciate and achieve the good. The speaker's perspective is based on both personal observation and philosophical musing.