The people who had the greatest impact on my life were those who displayed the quality of kindness to me. When I think of kindness, I immediately think of my mother, the kindest person I have ever known. She would often tell me to be kind to people no matter how badly they treat me, but I have to say, though, that I’m a slow learner in this regard. As the day goes by it seems we become more cynical as a people, there’s this growing sense of fear and otherness that seems to have taken over. I don’t believe that anyone was born unkind, we have the capacity to nurture our sympathy, our powers of compassion, our calmness, and our appetite for forgiveness – all of these can return us to who we always want to be and deep down we already are: kind people.
In theory, we are all interested in being kind. In practice, a lot gets in the way, maybe: tiredness, anger, bitterness. In fact, so much of what we value is preserved by kindness and is compatible with it. We can be kind and successful, kind and exciting, kind and wealthy and kind and potent. Kindness is a virtue awaiting our rediscovery and our renewed, unconflicted appreciation.
The kind person gives generously from a sense that they too will stand in need of kindness. Not right now, not over this, but in some other area. They know that self-righteousness is merely the result of a faulty memory: an inability to hold in mind, at moments when they are truly good and totally in the right, how often they have been deeply and definitively in the wrong. One fundamental path to remaining kind around people is the power to hold on, even in very challenging situations, to a distinction between what someone does, and what they meant to do.
We are very uncomfortable around the idea of a good person not succeeding. We would rather say that they weren’t good than embrace a far more disturbing and less well-publicized thought: that the world is very unfair. Kind people always keep the notion of injustice in mind. I read somewhere that the greatest kindness we can bestow on others in difficult moments is to treat them as if they were children. We rarely feel personally agitated or wounded by the bad behaviour of small children. And the reason is that we don’t assign negative motives or mean intentions to them. We reach around for the most benevolent interpretations. We forgive.
Kind people reveal plenty about their own failings. They confess not so much to unburden themselves as to help others accept their own nature and see that sometimes being a bad parent, a poor lover or a confused worker is not a malignant act of wickedness, but an ordinary feature of being alive that others have edited out of their public profiles.
If someone were to treat you harshly, would you be willing to “turn the tables” and show them great kindness? Have you ever been short with someone? Did you just speak your mind to them without really thinking about what you were saying? From experience, I can confidently say that we have a culture of oppression in our society, across all institutions; it seems the weak, the poor and the minority in general don’t stand a chance, but we can turn this around by embracing kindness because every day we have a choice; we can take the easier road, the more cynical road or we can take the much more difficult path – of transformation, of transcendence, of compassion and love, but also accountability and justice.