Kindness – have we lost the knack?
"This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple: the philosophy is kindness." - His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.
"For I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me into your house. I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you visited me. I was in prison and you went to see me ... Truly, I say to you; whenever you did this to one of the least, to my brothers, you did it to me." - Jesus of Nazareth.
"Let the good which ye bestow be for parents, and kindred, and orphans, and the poor, and the wayfarer; and whatever good ye do, of a truth God knoweth." - Mohammad (PBUH)
What is kindness
Kindness: 1. the quality of being kind; 2. a kind act. (COED)
Kind: 1. friendly, considerate, and generous; 2. (archaic) loving, affectionate (COED)
In the hurry and bustle of life, when everyone is intent on getting to the goal, whatever that might be, first, we can easily be caught up in this roiling and lose sight of our own, and other's, real humanity.
We can often be so taken up in our own struggle to win, or at least to make some measure of progress, that we can forget what life really is about.
And sometimes our “insatiable greed and overweening ambition knows no bounds” (that quotation is from Bartolome de Las Casas (1474-1566), who used those words to describe the Spanish colonists in Haiti) and we treat other people as mere chattels, instead of recognising that each individual is an end in himself or herself, and is not an instrument to be used for the furtherance of another's ambition.
In a world of “insatiable greed and overweening ambition” the virtue of kindness is often derided, as Lady Macbeth derided it when she saw it in her husband: “Yet do I fear thy nature, /It is too full o' th' milk of human kindness / To catch the nearest way..”
The “nearest way” of course was to kill Duncan in order to fulfil her ambition of being Queen to Macbeth's King.
Lady Macbeth was, of course, right to see kindness as standing in the way of her “overweening ambition.” If being kind is being, as the Concise Oxford English Dictionary says, being “friendly, considerate, and generous,” or, as the article “Kindness” in Wikipedia puts it: “the state of being kind and marked by charitable behaviour, marked by mild disposition, pleasantness, tenderness and concern for others,” these ways of being are completely contradictory to “overweening ambition.”
Or as that wonderfully cynical philosopher Nietzsche put it, love and kindness are the "most curative herbs and agents in human intercourse."
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World Kindness Day
Too often, I think, kindness is seen as too “milky,” too soft for the “real” world, which means, of course, the world of competition and struggle. Kindness is often seen as weak, as soft, as unmanly.
Actually, though, to be kind is to take risks, to be vulnerable, to be open to others. And that takes real strength, real courage.
And perhaps that is why so many people don't want to be kind – they fear that if they are kind they will “lose” something, something will be taken away from them.
The truth, though, is that what one would gain from a simple act of kindness would far outweigh any potential losses that might result from it. Because, as is stated in the “Rational Code of Ethics” that fellow-Hubber Paraglider has proposed, “We are responsible first to each other and our future generations, then to all life on Earth.” Acting with kindness is recognising this responsibility, and doing something about it.
The final word about kindness that I want to stress is that kindness is not just a quality or attribute, it is an action, it is doing something to indicate and live out our care and concern for others, to show that we take the responsibility we have for each other seriously.
Kindness is acting with generosity of spirit rather than meanness of spirit, and can be anything from a simple smile, a word of encouragement to a sharing of burdens or a giving of real material support to another person who might be in need.
It is good, but not enough, to have kind thoughts. Those thoughts, to have real value, must be expressed in action.
Since 13 November is marked by some as World Kindness Day, let's all commit to doing an act of kindness on this day, an act which might not seem too great by itself, but when added to the kind actions of many others, it might make an impact, a positive impact for good on the society in which we live.
The text and all images on this page, unless otherwise indicated, are by Tony McGregor who hereby asserts his copyright on the material. Should you wish to use any of the text or images feel free to do so with proper attribution and, if possible, a link back to this page. Thank you.
© Tony McGregor 2009