Happy Spring Holidays everyone!
Talking to the moon

On Kindness

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Living in these strange and troubling times, there's a mantra that I often repeat to myself (as I've mentioned here before): Be gentle, be gentle, be gentle. Stand your ground, know your truth, but be kind.

"Kindness" is a quality I value very highly although it's given little credence these days, dismissed as soft, simple, and sentimental in a culture that rewards the sharp, the hard, the self-reliant (or merely self-absorbed), lauding those who push to the front of the queue of success, wealth, and celebrity -- too often with little regard for the "losers" and "weaklings" thrust out of their way. Thus it was with great interest that I came across the little book On Kindness by two distinguished modern thinkers: historian Barbara Taylor and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips.

"Why do the pleasures of kindness astonish us?" they ask. "And why are stories of kindness often so corny or silly, so trivializing of the things that matter the most to most people?"

Why indeed?

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"The pleasures of kindess were well known in the past," Phillips and Taylor point out. "Kindness was man's 'greatest delight,' the Roman philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius declared, and thinkers and writers have echoed him down through the centuries. But today many people find these pleasures literally incredible, or at least highly suspect. An image of the self has been created that is utterly lacking in natural generosity. Most people appear to believe that deep down they (and other people) are mad, bad and dangerous to know; that as a species -- apparently unlike other species of animal -- we are deeply and fundamentally antagonistic to each other, that our motives are utterly self-seeking and that our sympathies are forms of self-protectiveness."

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On Kindness, say the authors, is an explanation of how this state of affairs has come about. Despite the devaluation (and feminization) of the ideal of kindness in the modern age, "people are leading secretly kind lives all the time, but without a language in which to express this, or cultural support for it. Living according to our sympathies, we imagine, will weaken or overwhelm us; kindness is the saboteur of the successful life.

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"We need to know how we have come to believe that the best lives we can lead seem to involve sacrificing the best things about ourselves; and how we have come to believe that there are greater pleasures than kindness. Kindness -- not sexuality, not violence, not money -- has become our forbidden pleasure. What about our times has made kindness seem so dangerous?"

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That's a question I very much want an answer to -- and this book, alas, did not fully provide it, simply because it's too short to go very deeply into such a complex subject. It makes for a good beginning, however: the chapters on the history and philosophy of kindness are both fascinating and illuminating. (The middle of the book, by contrast, is devoted to Freudian theories of kindness; they are well explicated, but can be skipped over if, like me, you're allergic to Freud.)

Despite these reservations, I recommend On Kindness because it starts a much-needed conversation on the subject. I hope that other writers will continue the conversation, going beyond Taylor & Phillips' classical focus to examine kindness in other societal traditions. We need new conceptual frameworks for re-building kindness as a cultural ideal: genderless, classless, diverse and inclusive. We need to lift the ideal of kindness above the cliche of sentimentality and see it for the brave, vital, necessary force it is. Let's make the Beautiful Resistance a movement rich in kindness.

Are you with me?

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On Kindness by Phillips & TaylorThe passages above are from On Kindness by Adam Phillips & Barbara Taylor (Penguin Books, 2009). The poem in the picture captions is from Poetry magazine (March 2003). All rights reserved by the authors.

Comments

Eating Salt

The spit of it,
your tongue alive
with venomous season,
the dish sullied,
friendship's wounds
sown with despair.

Why make things worse,
an insalted insult,
when kind meeting kind
makes better matter,
and a meal between mates?

© 2017 Jane Yolen, all rights reserved

So with you, Terri. Another writer who has touched me on this point is George Eliot. She would said that "sympathy" was what was needed between us, and that it relies on our having a "true knowledge of our fellow man" (and woman), and this she tried to develop in her fiction. _Middlemarch_ is her attempt at a masterwork of the sympathetic imagination. (Auguste Comte's "Religion of Humanity" is often credited as the foundation for her thinking on this.) From _Middlemarch_, the narrator speaking of its heroine, Dorothea, the gentle idealist: "“But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

Your kindness and gentle look at the world oozes out of your blog. It is good to remind us with a thornier edge to keep this in mind.

Phillips and Taylor briefly mention Auguste Comte's "theory of benevolence as a neurological function," and that it was embraced by George Eliot, John Stuart Mill, and Harriet Martineau. I defintely want to learn more this. Thank you, Kelly.

Just perfect.

absolutely with you...

the hardest facet of the current time for me is the uptick in unkindness, and the spiritual angst i have felt since last november's election, which made it feel as if humanity was of two wildly differing types. that isn't how i really believe things to be, but as someone who generally loves anybody and holds compassion to be the first of all virtues, it has been a depressing time.

but without kindness, there is no way forward. without kindness, we risk losing our souls, as well as doing little good to the earth and her living things.

The subject's always timely. No one is stronger than the person who is kind.

Kindness, the appreciation of beauty, ones ability to remain quiet and true to ones self are all qualities that are all but dismissed by modern critical thinking. I become so very tired of the pulsating crowd of would-be artists, writers, singers that jump up and down screaming, " Look at me, aren't I special!" that sometimes I just want to go to ground...and I do. I bury my arms into the soft grip of the soil and the complex tangle of roots that inhabits it, and ponder quietly the mad, mad world that swirls around about us all.

'Ae, Yes, to your question Terri. I am with you.


The misplaced consonant

con·so·nant
ˈkänsənənt/Submit
noun
1.
a basic speech sound in which the breath is at least partly obstructed and which can be combined with a vowel to form a syllable.
-from Google

After one early morning read of your post, I remembered how so much of society in civilized and profit-bred worlds build upon The Mortgage. I recalled the first time I signed a contract of debt and found the origin of that western word to mean "death pledge." It, the mortgage proved to be a story of just such a pledge. Until one day, during the harshest of winters yet, in the woods on an island in the middle of the Salish Sea ... I began to remember and re-learn the language of my Mother. I began to remember an older context for culture and language based on navigating water (fluid, invisibility), and the Eight Seas that connect the Hawaiian Islands. I began to remember how a misplaced consonant changes the meaning of a word, or a word's mana.

The re-storying of our culture's context is happening for me as my study of my Mother Language slowing pukas pokes new holes my path. The weight of kindness, and the way in which the word is spoken in Hawaiian changes if I include or subtract the final consonant in the language. If I leave the `(called an okina and looks like a small numeral 6) in place the word is 'Ano. With the additional ` I am saying "Kind, mature, character, type; somewhat, to show signs of." If I subtract the ` the word Ano is pronounced differently and means "Awe, reverence, peacefulness, sacredness; feeling of awe, fear, or oppression, quiet; weird solitude; awestruck. Subtle yet powerful change in meanings.

At the core of our stories that value accumulation there is, I believe, a story fed on the misplaced consonant (where the breath has been trapped, rather than only temporarily held to connect with a vowel). The Mortgage. How ill-conceived a word and context to build upon? As Spring emerges from the harshest winter yet I practice Mother Language, and am rewarded with the incredible strength of Ano, a seed sprouts within me.

Inspired by your post, and the link you shared to http://uncannymagazine.com/article/beautifulresistance/ I mix these into a new medicine story, to feed inclusiveness and Mother Language, with and without the misplaced consonant ... because, YES, 'Ae, I am with you!

Any people who are fundamentally kind to one another, any community where kindness is a basic & accepted value, is harder to control.

You know my answer. 🖤🖤🖤

I love this image, Charles.

🖤!

Love this one.

Hi Terri,
Thank you for this post. I've been thinking about kindness a lot in relation to social media and the technology we use. I'm not sure I can say what I mean yet, but it seems to me that Twitter and Facebook (and the like) seem to encourage or reward specific kinds of communication. Comedy is popular, of course, but much can come at the expense of others' feelings. Anger is needed, of course, but it often fuels screaming matches online. It's rare to find voices online that aren't somehow acidic or righteous. It seems difficult, as you say, to be truly gentle online. I'm certainly not innocent myself. Like most, I get in moods and want to brazenly torch idiocy. I sometimes say or repost things that I worry will inflame. Thank you for providing a spot to explore these thoughts. And thank you for being a model of kindness and wisdom for me and so many.

Much love,
Edie

"My religion is simple. My religion is kindness." ~ His Holiness, the Dalai Lama.

For Marcia and me, kindness isn't something we 'do'. It's simply a part of who we are. There's an old Native saying that if you had a community of _____ people and everyone in that community cared for everyone else, there would be no disease. Makes sense to us. Kindness costs nothing and gives everything!

Hugs,
M&M

"Thank you for providing a spot to explore these thoughts. And thank you for being a model of kindness and wisdom for me and so many." Agreed. She does, and I am very grateful. Aloha, Mokihana

Edie: When Marcia and I began our foray into social media several years ago, we were fortunate to come across this site (re-published as the original was dropped): Thoughtful Twitter Use Manifesto (http://www.elasticmind.ca/innerpreneur/index.php/2009/12/14/a-thoughtful-twitter-use-manifesto/) It changes the basic question of a post from 'what's happening' to 'what can I tell you that will make your life better?' It's a creed we do our best to follow in all of our posts on Twitter, on Google+, on our blog, and on FB (although we're not there much). We RARELY (I won't say never) post anything that we don't find uplifting, interesting or beautiful. It's not that we're completely ignorant of the darkness in the world, but it doesn't need our support.

M&M

Smile.

xxxJane

Thanks, Edith.

Jane

thank you for this inspiring post, photos, links and poetry, your voice gives me hope that we can turn this strange year around and find beauty, love and kindness in our broken world

For All The Kindness

Here. It rolls like the sea.
A sea of words, and whispers.
From Hawaii, USA, a Mythic Moor....

These wise words and
Beautiful shadows
Of how strong, so filling.

All around a ragged world
Desperately needing hope
All forms of kindness calls.

What more than love,
Quieter than breathing,
A truth, here, and there.

We write, we paint, we sing,
We share, No fences can hold
The drift of so much kindness.

Love the "drift of so much kindness." I see it piling up like leaves in the fall, snow in winter, and in summer the drift of those pink and yellow petals blown off in the wind.

Jane

Love this Phyllis. Thank you. The image I have as I finished was also born from your "No fences can hold The drift of so much kindness." Oddly, and wonderfully I recall the "sand catchers" or drift fences that made it possible for the turtles to burrow in off the ocean and lay their eggs along the busy highway near Ma'alaea on the island of Maui.

You came me a place to imagine & remember so much kindness "A truth, here, and there." Beautiful!

Thank you, Jane. It was a thanks for your wonderful poem.....

Thank you, Mokihana,,,,,,My imagined fence you brought to light. Now I am imagining we are all dancing together, in the air and in all this beauty.

Also I have never been to Hawaii, but the music, the beautiful islands, and in college, I had a dorm friend who missed Hawaii so much, she would cook up food for our little gang, to remember her home.

SO "with you"
Kindness is it's own reward.

"Why make things worse, an insalted insult," this line has softened me up:)

If you cannot be kind, be quiet!

I can't promise that I always live by that, but I do try!

I'm completely with you. I believe kindness is love with its everyday clothes on. Perhaps that's why people feel they need to hide it, because love is so often mocked these days (unless advertisers can use it to sell things to you.) But truly it's what we need most in this world.

I am with you, Terri!

After the election here in the States I resolved to move through the world as kindly as possible. Whenever I'm unsure what's needed, my default is to think of the kind path. I have been amazed by the power of a kind gesture, and how often it is returned. Despite all the hate swirling around, I have discovered warm pockets of kindness everywhere, often in unexpected places. In order to know the kind response I need to listen more closely. I might have missed so much. I'm not always quick enough to bit back a retort, but each time I flex my kindness muscle it strengthens and reinforces the practice.

From the first, I've resolved to be kind in social media, and I have a very different experience of it than so many people I know. Why add to the pain?

Thank you for this post, and all the beautiful responses!

I am with you also, Terri! Wonderful, uplifting post and comments. I believe kindness and integrity are intertwined, and those two qualities are the foremost ones I want my children to have. Sarah -- "kindness is love with its everyday clothes on" -- how lovely! I will remember that.

Dear Terri,

The word "kindness" has deep etymological roots shared with words such as "kin" and "kindred." It is the sense of mutual care arising from the recognition of being related, of being "of one kind."

The experience of connection, of likeness, of relationship, is the root of empathy, and therefore what we call kindness. It is the natural expression of kinship.

The study of nature shows the most successful creatures are multi-cellular organisms which communicate and serve each other in complex, co-operative groups. The sense of kinship and commonality is the root of kindness and co-operation.

So there you have the answer to why kindness is becoming more alien in our culture. Because we subscribe to an erroneous philosophy of individualism, isolationism and religious fundamentalism. We focus on labels of otherness. We have lost sight of our kinship.

In the strongest, healthiest traditions, as we know, kinship extends beyond our own species to include all life. This has to be reinstated not only as an intellectual understanding, but as a lived experience.

In biology, the Theory of Evolution demonstrates scientifically that everything is related; that we share genes and history with other animals, insects, trees, grasses, microbes, all life. And physics shows us that the very atoms of our existence were long, long ago forged in the stars.

Our kinship is beyond question. Our nature is essentially cooperative.

We need to recognize this reality anew, by accepting the evidence of science; and we need to reaffirm its principle in our lives by honoring the ancient traditions which give it social form.

As the Lakota Sioux express it, "Aho mitakuye oyasin," All are related/all our relations and as the Buddha taught "Compassion for all beings."

When we rediscover our kindred, we will show kindness.

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