K is for Kindness

Ellen always ends her shows with one last entreaty to her audience, both studio and worldwide. Be kind to one another. I’ve always liked Ellen…she comes across as an honest, savvy, forthright, sassy and intelligent human being. Not to mention she can be pretty funny. Lots of people who have the world’s ear, in some form or another, have appealed for us to do the same. And we don’t have to agree with every single person we meet, see, read or hear about in order to be kind to them. That is what makes this seemingly simple request so tough sometimes. The guy who just shot his two young children dead in a home in Dunedin, the person who donated 350 thousand dollars to shoot a black rhino, the guy who chooses to fight dogs for money, the teenage superstar who behaves like an entitled douchebag. Can I possibly be kind to them? In a way my kindness might just be to not jump on the bandwagon of condemnation.

It’s weird how humanity is wired so that wisdom and an appreciation of life doesn’t really hit till we are well into our relatively short life spans. I almost feel a vague sense of being cheated. Childhood is a wondrous thing of course (although over way too quick) but once we start becoming young adults (essentially once we hit adolescence) our sense of self becomes the complete be all and end all of our existence. Now I know there are teenagers out there who you would declare devoid of this self absorption, indeed I know of quite a few, I would argue that I was probably one of them. But not due to any worldly wise appreciation of life, or some sage understanding – simply because I was brought up to think that it was the right thing to do, the right way to behave. Use your manners, treat your parents and adults with respect and do the right thing. I did all those things – not because I understood the true value of kindness but because that was how I was raised. Many kids behave the way they do because their parents have taught them that way. It took me till my 30s to really start to see how special human life was, it’s not something any one person can impress on you, it doesn’t matter who talks to you about it. Took me till my 30s before I could step outside of my own very cosy and little self perspective on things and begin to ponder just how small and insignificant our lives are in the big scheme of the universe. Before I realised that our time is short and we should find joy every day if we can. Before I realised what it meant by the concept that everything is temporary. I began to see all around me more and more examples of depravity and abject poverty and the depths that humanity could sink to. But at the same time I saw more and more examples of the strength of the human condition, acts of unthinking selflessness, of our propensity for kindness and compassion. It filled me (and continues to fill me) with both absolute despair and absolute wonder.

And now I try to remember every day – to be kind to each other. It doesn’t eliminate or even discard my quick fire reactions to things. I’ll hear stuff or read stuff or see stuff and be just as incensed, outraged, horrified, angry or just plain despairing. And if it is involving people (funny, invariably humans are always involved) then I try to step out of my immediate reaction for a moment. I let myself feel the way I feel about the action, or the words and then I think wait a minute, this is a human being and they deserve kindness. What do I want to achieve here? Is it to change them? Is it to condemn them? Is it to denigrate them? Is it to antagonise them? Perhaps I show kindness by not voicing any of my concerns or feelings, especially if I cannot think of a single thing to say or do that will achieve any kind of productive change. I remove myself from the situation. Perhaps I think about my use of words more carefully and bring something to their attention they may not be aware of, in a way that is nothing but amicable and cordial. Maybe I should make an effort to find what is likeable about this person, get to know them more, figure out if we have common ground.

I’m not sure I’ve got this whole being kind to each other thing completely in hand as yet. I’m pretty sure you shouldn’t have to step outside your own viewpoint to “get it.” But I’m going to keep on working at it because at the end of the day if all they can write on my gravestone is “Here lies Simone, she was kind” then I’ve done okay as far as being a human being taking up air on this planet can do.

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