THE realisation hits as you age: kindness is an art that’s practised as a survival instinct.A life lived in note of the needs of others is restorative. For your own peace of mind, for your sense of wellbeing.
To put it bluntly, it makes you feel better.
American author George Saunders spoke of the importance of kindness in a speech to graduates last year. His biggest regret: failures of kindness in his own life. Niggling little moments, stretching right back to school, when he recognised that someone needed a healthy dose of it and he responded only mildly, or sensibly, rather than vigorously. He’s still haunted by those failures; and when I think of my own childhood I know what he means. People on the margins who I extended a hand to, yes, but that touch could have been stronger, firmer, more courageous; more distinct from the crowd.
As Saunders says, “To look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth? Those who were kindest to you, I bet.” Oh, to be a heart-lifter rather than a heart-sinker – because we never forget how people make us feel in our lives. Often it’s the smallest gesture that can make a heart sing. And by doing so, the giver’s plumed with goodwill as much, if not more, than the receiver.
There are periods in all our lives when our kindness is absent; those sour, inward times when our face isn’t looking out strongly into the world, square on; when our life feels flinched. We can climb out of those dark times by noticing others, practising a generosity of the soul, in a lowering which is also a strength. As Saunders says, “There’s a confusion in each of us, a sickness, really: selfishness. But there’s also a cure.”
Albert Einstein noted: “Strange is our situation here upon Earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to divine a purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: that we are here for the sake of others… for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day, I realise how much my outer and inner life is built upon the labours of people, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received and am still receiving.”
As I get older it’s kindness more than anything that moves me to tears; the unexpectedness of it. And I recognise now the affirming lift of it if I’m kind myself. It’s a tonic; it keeps you buoyant. And the more empowered people feel, of course, the greater their propensity to show kindness to others; something to note in the fragile, snippy world of social media with all its cruelties and shouted insecurities. It’s the circus for the disempowered.
We practise kindness for self-preservation. It helps us live stronger, more optimistic, serene and loving lives.
Kindness is the most effective circuit-breaker and even if it’s not reciprocated, or appreciated, or even noticed, it’s a gift for the giver. It’s like an armoury of serenity, but people often don’t realise its potency until they’ve accumulated a lifetime of experiences involving it – or not. “Err in the direction of kindness,” Saunders urged.
“Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality – your soul, if you will – is as bright and shining as any that has ever been.
Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Teresa’s. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.”
By Nikki Gemmell
With thanks to The Australian
Picture Credit: About Albert Einstein Quotes
Thanks to GR for sending me this.
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