On Kindness

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I am sensitive to kindness. Other people can sometimes tell at a glance whether a woman or man is in a relationship, or what their sexuality is, or your socioeconomic background from with a quick perusal of their clothes and accessories. They know from the way you talk what place you come from, and can tell very quickly, just by looking at your face, whether they find you a beautiful person or not, even though the slope of one’s nose has no bearing on the landscape of one’s heart.

I’m not good at sensing those things. I don’t pay attention to them, because they don’t matter to me. But, like a dog who pricks its hear up at the faintest whine in the air, just by walking past someone I can instantly tell if they are kind or unkind—and if they fall into the former category, then when I look at them, I see immeasurable beauty.

For me, kindness is as necessary as air and water. It is sunshine and loveliness. In the presence of it, like a flower, I rise up, spread my leaves and turn my petals towards it. It fills my heart like nothing else does. The trouble is, there is so very little kindness left in the world, at least in the cities where no-one is anyone and everybody is part of the great mass known as the Crowd. Not only that, society at large is set up to reward both financially and socially those who have little kindness or care for their fellow human beings in their hearts. You can make a great deal of money and become very successful by treating people, and animals as objects to be used, or exploited, or poisoned. You can make a great deal of money by tricking people, by catering to the rich rather than the poor, the privileged than the disadvantaged. The worst part is it doesn’t really matter in the end whether we are kind or not, as life goes on, and people die by the thousands everyday without anyone to mourn for them and their silent, tiny tragedies.

Nevertheless, I was gifted with this very prominent Kindness radar, and am constantly hyper-vigilant when it comes to any little squiggly wavelengths emanating from a human’s heart in my vicinity that perks up an antennae or two.

For instance, at the mental health centre today, this tall gangly young man, very visibly and noticeably awkward and quiet (like me!), held open the front door and waited several seconds for a woman in a wheelchair to reach it. The woman didn’t make any sign of gratitude in response, she just drove right through (perhaps she expected it), yet he didn’t look the least bit upset by that, and such a simple act, as I sat in the waiting room, distracted me from my troubles and warmed my heart. And that’s just the thing—for kindness to touch me and brighten my day, it doesn’t even have to be directed at me. Of course, it would be nice to be treated with kindness at every turn in life, but I’ve lived long enough to know that is impossible (and besides, sometimes I’m not sure if I’m actually hungry for love or kindness) yet if I see any act of kindness, or even so much as walk past or spend some time around someone who is kind, and often sensitive to boot, I feel happy and rejuvenated.

Unkindness, or cruelty, superiority, hatred—take your pick, my friend—has, as you might expect, the opposite effect. To be around any violence, any coldness or cruelty, to even stand next to someone who is unkind, makes me feel as though a poker were pressed against my heart. I feel physically sick sometimes when I spot a cruel and blundering person. I can just sense it. There’s a certain air to the way they walk (generally very briskly), the way they hold themselves, the way they check their phones, just this aura that screams a lack of spirituality, of hardness and coldness, ignorance and superiority. They are like pale, blank eyes carved from porcelain, turning very smoothly in a stone socket. They see and feel very little. I can’t stand them; I can’t stand to see them or speak to them or even stand next to them.

Their very being hurts me. I both hate and fear them, hate them for their lack of empathy, fear them because I know what without hearts can accomplish in this world. Also, it has always been the heartless who have hurt me. I’m often surprised at how very little empathy people have. I don’t understand how some people in this world haven’t collapsed from guilt. But that is the way of the world: the bad live in castles and dine on rich wines, with lovers and furs to bask in; while often the good sit and sleep alone, with nothing but an easy conscience to comfort them at day’s end.

Like most sensitive animals, I respond very well to softness and tenderness. I adore it. This is partly because deep down, behind the anxiety and the psychological walls (a veritable fortress of mental barriers against intimacy, in fact), I can be extraordinarily empathetic and loving. I try my best to hide this part of me, though, mostly because being in a state of utmost kindness all the time, even around family members, is like constantly wearing your heart on your sleeve, you get hurt very easily and frequently. It’s funny: I have tremendous hunger for love, but at the same time a great capacity to give love. I don’t quite understand it. I’m desperately starved of love, yet at the same time I wish I could have something to pour love over like melted butter, a small pet, or a child of my own, someone to care for and comfort and protect from the world. Or maybe it does make sense. Maybe, since I never received that kind of love and probably never will, the closest I can get to it is by dispensing it myself, the way children who grow up with abusive parents sometimes make a vows to never treat their own future children in the same way. You try and fill someone else’s void in the hopes that doing so will fill your own, and because you are very familiar terms with voids and know how to deal with them. Whether this strategy works or not is more difficult to say.

This love—no, need—for kindness is one of the reasons I find it so difficult to interact with people. Take my therapist—she’s nice, I suppose, but she lacks that touch of true, genuine empathy and warmth that comes from an enlightened mind and a sensitive heart worn soft, rather than hard, by true suffering. If it were up to me, I wouldn’t see her anymore. But the sight of that one kind act with the boy holding the door open for the woman in the wheelchair made the whole situation more bearable, lightened the load of my heart. The power of kindness is infinite. I suppose it affects me a little more because I’m a sensitive person, and soar to great heights when treated well, and drop to dark depths for some time if so much as a bad look is thrown my way, but I do believe kindness can be transformative for any human being with a heart regardless of whether they are exquisitely sensitive or a little more on the blunt side.

Kindness is the cure for all man-made evils in the world. Likewise, lack of kindness is the source of all—or at least most—of the evil in the world. If we treated fellow human beings, the environment and animals with the same kindness we treat our own family members and children, the world would not be in the state it currently is in. No doubt there would still be suffering, diseases and death—no amount of kindness can heal cancer or a mortal wound—but kindness could stop pharmaceutical companies from force-feeding people poisonous medications which eventually lead to the growth of cancer in bodies for the sake of profit, or prevent a wound from being inflicted in the first place.

Unfortunately, I do think, up until the very end of humanity, as has been the case until now, some people will quietly treasure whatever little scraps of kindness they can find or create, while the majority either ignore its existence and concentrate their thoughts and efforts entirely towards themselves, and a minority kick the dying animal in the face without anyone to stop them. There is such a lot of agony in the world that even if you were to scream for a thousand years at the bottom of a wheel it would not be enough to relieve it, and the most terrible and terrifying thing is that, as I wrote before, whenever anything screams it does so into a void, and usually nothing answers back. So I think one of the best life philosophies one can adopt is to try and be the thing that answers back when anything cries out in pain. It might not meaning anything in the grand scheme of things, but in the moment, for whatever creature it is that is suffering, it is worth more than a thousand universes strung together.

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3 thoughts on “On Kindness

  1. What a wonderful radar to have. Thank you for sharing that story of that awkward, kind stranger.

    I think a lot of people would be surprised at how I remember them, simply because of how kind they were. That one stranger who offered me a bandaid when I tripped running to the bus stop. The only girl who gave me a birthday present at a birthday dinner. The girl I can never truly hate because she laughed at something I said. The one friend who let me know I have a sense of humor.

    • (comment submitted before finished): these little acts of kindness are like the matchsticks orphans would cup against the cold.

      I am sure that other people remember you for your kindness, and you yourself– that is the most precious gift in the world to have, I think. To look for that. To be kind, and to want people to be kind in turn. To expect that of people, out of all the things they can be.

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