The other day, I finished reading Derren Brown’s Confessions of a Conjurer. It’s one of those love-it-or-hate-it books, which I’m drawn to because I figure a work that polarizes people is probably unique, and therefore, worth reading. In it, Derren says that “the single most valuable human trait, the one quality every schoolchild and adult should be taught to nurture, is, quite simply, kindness.”
I find myself thinking about kindness a lot, partly because I’m fascinated by why people do the things they do. But I’m also trying to learn how to be a better person, and I’ve come to the conclusion that being kind is far and away better than being unkind.
During my exploration into the concept of kindness, I realized that, although I’ve managed (just barely) to put other people’s unkind words in their proper place, i.e., as something that highlights their faults/insecurities rather than my own, most people are particularly affected by words. When I think back to times when, out of a sense of stress or frustration, I’ve lashed out at an unsuspecting person, I cringe at the hurt feelings (or worse) that I’ve left in my wake. Now, I can hear some of you say: “Yes, but people are responsible for their reactions and they could have simply laughed away your comments.” In the past, I would have agreed, but in view of the fact that the world is a harsh place that is filled with challenges, frustrations and disappointments, the question becomes: would I rather be someone who makes people’s lives a teensy bit worse or a teensy bit better?
Another aspect of kindness that Derren, Paul McKenna, and other NLPers talk about involves listening (as in actually listening as opposed to pretending to listen) to other people’s points of view, even if you are diametrically opposed to said view. Though the idea is a common one, what is rare is the accomplishment of this feat, especially if the view in question means a great deal to you and you have to do everything in your power to keep from cutting the other person off or launching into an impassioned diatribe in the opposite direction. My own rather strong Views on…hmm…most everything, I think…make this extremely tough for me; however, I can see why this would be considered kindness, and regardless, the simple fact that I may actually learn a thing or two in the process makes it worth doing anyway.
Then there is Dirk Gently’s philosophy regarding the “fundamental interconnectedness of all things,” which then leads us to what the sceptics believe is the only reason to be kind: the law of reciprocity. Although I do think we’re all interconnected (yes, yes…six degrees of separation, string theory, quantum whatsits, etc.), to reduce kindness to the level of exchanging favors is missing the point entirely. This would be an act of “qualified kindness,” which isn’t really kindness at all – more like manipulation.
So how does one go about an act of “unqualified kindness?” When I was a kid, I was a huge fan of Stephen R. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant series. Like many of his fans, the quote: “accepting a gift honors the giver” stuck in my mind. I think of unqualified kindness as giving a little piece of myself to someone, and if they accept my gift it makes my world a little brighter. That sense of happiness from doing something nice is…nice, and a reward in itself.