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The power of kindness
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Pass it on
I'm reading
The power of kindness
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
The power of kindness
Pass it on
Pass it on
Articles
18 August 2016

The power of kindness

Kindness is far from weakness. It is the fuel that allows us to transform, heal and liberate.

Written by Pierz Newton-John

This story originally ran in issue #48 of Dumbo Feather

Image: Alone Together (detail) by Ben Rayner/Flickr

We live, it seems, in increasingly unkind times. On the internet, misogyny, racism and all forms of vileness thrive unchecked. In the news we hear almost daily of new atrocities committed in the name of hateful ideologies. Refugees fleeing indescribable man-made horrors are greeted by naval patrol boats and sent to rot in dead-end detention centres on tropical islands where they quietly go mad. For those seeking safe haven from war and persecution, increasingly the response is to build a higher wall.

To describe all this as “unkindness” is of course a gross understatement, and yet these extreme examples emerge out of a background of what seems to be a general hardening of attitudes, which frames cruelty as realism, and kindness as naiveté or weakness. Politically, we’ve seen this reflected in Australia in the bipartisan support for an unprecedentedly punitive asylum seeker policy. Overseas, the Trump phenomenon mirrors the same shift: the fear of “different,” foreign people that in Australia drove “Stop the Boats” is manifest in Trumpism as the plan to build a wall to stop Mexican illegal immigration. It also seems to be the major driver behind Britain’s vote to exit the European Union.

Political change like this is always the visible tip of a vast iceberg of cultural and social change which is far less visible, except insofar as it reaches us through our own personal interactions. Though such impressions are inevitably subjective, it seems to me that many people are burning out emotionally as they try to form intimate relationships in an environment where decisions to connect are reduced to a swipe left or right, and attitudes are almost brutally instrumental. In such an emotionally unsafe environment, where people are objectified as a means to an end, it’s no wonder that people come to regard kindness as a character flaw to be expunged. To be kind requires sensitivity to others, and sensitivity is dangerous in an emotionally brutalised world.

We associate kindness with vulnerability, vulnerability with weakness. To the extent that we perceive the world to be a cut-throat place, red in tooth and claw and governed by the competition for scarce resources, we will naturally tend to see kindness as at best a luxury, at worst a fatal liability.

Yet kindness is far from weakness. Kindness is the engine and the fuel of love, without which a society cannot cohere. Certainly a society can be held together by fear, by a wall. Yet such fear-based societies eventually fall apart, in the same way that fear-based families do. The real strength of a society lies in the strength of the invisible network of bonds between people, bonds that are developed and strengthened by each act of kindness, and eroded by cruelty and mistrust. If these bonds are weakened sufficiently, the society grows brittle and eventually simply collapses.

True kindness does not depend on gullibility or naiveté (though of course some kind people may exhibit those traits). Indeed the highest form of kindness is that which has survived the bruising encounter with the world’s cruelty, yet continues to love anyway. I think of people like Victor Frankl, who suffered through Auschwitz yet continued to affirm the dignity of human existence and the search for meaning. Of Nelson Mandela, whose kindness radiated even after almost 30 years of imprisonment and persecution.

The kindest people are the biggest people. They are people who have transcended the notion that generosity need be conditional upon possession, who find a capacity to give when they have nothing to give but themselves. Who remain steadfastly gentle despite ubiquitous brutality.

To become kind requires us not to transform ourselves into idealistic fools, but to grow larger and freer in ourselves. It demands of us the courage to liberate ourselves from the pervasive fear of scarcity, and empower ourselves to give. To overcome the notion, broadcast from all sides by our culture, that we are empty, lacking, and in need.

This is a discovery that we are all capable of making, an almost miraculous realisation that everything we’ve been told was wrong. That despite our feelings of lacking love, we can give love, and in doing so, discover we had it in ourselves all along. That in a world dominated by the fear of lack we can become net emitters, feeding more back into the energy grid of human connection than we take out of it, and in turn find ourselves not emptied, but fulfilled. This is a form of power. Not the power to dominate or control, which we normally associate with the word. But a power to transform, heal and liberate. It’s the kind of power we need now more than ever.

Pierz Newton-John

Pierz Newton-John is a writer, psychotherapist and founding faculty member of The School Of Life Melbourne. His short story collection Fault Lines was published by Spineless Wonders in 2012.

 

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