Modern life tells us that so many other things are more important. Money, success, individuality, getting what you what and what you think you deserve. People think that power over others is more important, proclamations from centuries old books, even their own twisted interpretations of what their version of god wants. Everything is more important than kindness.
I see it every day. I see it in people who think it’s okay to skin a cat alive and put it on YouTube and I see it in business where stabbing your boss in the back is seen as a reasonable strategy to help you get ahead. There are cultures out there who believe that torturing an animal before you kill and eat it makes it taste better, and it never occurs to them that their taste buds are less important than the animal’s fear and suffering.
I’m tired of hearing it. I’m tired of hearing that kindness doesn’t help you get ahead and that it only applies to certain people or groups, and I’m tired of people who think that what they want is more important than other people. Most of all, I’m tired of hearing that kindness is the same as weakness, that strength is the same as violence and the ability to force others to do your will.
Kindness is hard. It’s hard not to gossip when everyone else is and it’s hard not to lash out at someone when they hurt you. It’s hard to remember that what you want isn’t always what’s best for those around you, and that hurting someone who has done the wrong thing doesn’t teach them how to do the right thing.
Being kind takes tremendous strength and control and is perhaps the most difficult lesson I’ve ever learned and am still learning. You hear about terrible things in this world, things that people do to themselves, to each other, and to other living beings and sometimes you just want to hurt them in response, to make them feel the same pain they inflicted. It’s as if some part of you thinks that if you can make them understand that pain, they won’t inflict it on others ever again.
But history, psychology and common sense all teach us that isn’t the truth. Children who are beaten often grow up to beat their own children and countries that are conquered and oppressed rise up and slaughter their oppressors and then turn on each other. We have thousands of examples of how this technique of an eye for an eye doesn’t work and yet we keep returning to it. The state of the world at the moment, the wars and terrorist attacks, are ongoing evidence of the failure of this idea and yet something in us can’t turn from it.
Instead we try to justify it. We call it justice, we call it protecting ourselves, and we call it everything but retribution. We never say out loud that we just want to hurt others because we got hurt. And we don’t mention the cost to us. Not only the cost in manpower, of men gone to war and returned damaged or not at all. We don’t mention the cumulative cost either, that cruelty wears away at us, turns us harder and crueller so that the next death, the next punishment, the next atrocity, is easier.
So if cruelty is our current strategy and it continually fails than what are our other options? Kindness. We be kind. We reach out to those we share the world with. We try to understand, even when we fail. We help when we can and stay out of it when we can’t and we try always to do what is best for everyone concerned. And we fail. Sometimes we are knocked back violently or with anger. And we get up and try again. With kindness, always and only with kindness.
As our society marches on, as it changes rapidly, as we get close enough to our neighbours to realise just how different we are and how afraid we are of that, we have to take a new look at the old strategies. These strategies, that never worked in the first place, have to fall away if we are to survive. They have to make way for new ways of thinking and being, born of this new world, not dragged forward from the old. Or they don’t, and this changing world will go up in flames.
Most days, I think that’s the more likely option.