Learning kindness

Cover of "On Kindness"

Cover of On Kindness

I recently read Ann Kerwhin’s, The Philosophers Column in the HERDSA news. Her topic was kindness, particularly educating for kindness.  She pointed to Adam Phillips and Barbara Taylor, and  their book, On Kindness (2010) where they observed that wealthy productive nations now seem to value independence, self-reliance and competitive achievement over beneficence.  Kindness while covertly cherished is overtly undervalued.  Education programmes, particularly higher education do not pay much attention to developing kindness in their graduates.

I recognised that I have written about achievement, performance, independence and autonomy at length, but I have not written about learning for kindness.  I wonder, would our families, workplaces, communities and world, be better places if we learnt and overtly practiced and valued kindness? Let’s take kindness through the six dimensional model.

What do we know about kindness? What are they key concepts and principles? Kindness is not just a concern for others it is an action.  Kindness is derived from the word kin. Kin are any social group you belong to including your family, friends and communities.

Aristotle laid down the key elements of the concept of kindness. He explained it was an act of helpfulness to someone in need, given not for any advantage of the giver, but only to help the person in need.  This mean selfless giving, not self interested giving.  That distinction is important.

There are other concepts which are complimentary to kindness, sympathy, generosity, altruism, benevolence, humanity, compassion, pity, empathy, and open-heartedness.
What are acts of kindness? How do we recognise and experience kindness? What are kind actions?  Acts of kindness are primarily gifts, of time, support or resources to another person.  These gifts are made without an expectation of anything in return. We experience kindness when someone observing our situation or circumstances gives us something to help us.  They make it clear in the giving that they expect nothing from us. An authentic act of kindness is based on genuineness, and is not exploitive.

It is worth considering what kindness is not. It is not taking, rather than gifting. It is not expecting something in return for gifts given. It is not selfish but self less. So next time someone gives you something consider whether the gift is in fact kind or something else.

What values are present in kindness? The ethos of kindness lies in the values of caring and respect for others. I think there is a strong element of responsible citizenship in kindness.

How do we bring kindness into our own lives? Wenger has said we are social beings, possessed with feelings, social relationships and responsibilities. We also are observers of feelings, involved in social interactions, and in need of kindness.

This little video explains being kind to yourself.  The message is simple and the setting, in the snow with intelligent and loving horses, wonderful.

How do we bring kindness to the lives of others without being salutary or officious, or patronising?   In the book On kindness, the authors pointed out that, people need other people not just for companionship or support in hard times but to fulfill their humanity. Without kindness humanity becomes less human.  The trick behind kindness to others lies in the underlying values, your acts of kindness are acts of care and respect. They are authentic, and without expectation of something in return.

What do we need to be kind? What do we need to access, to evaluate and to share?  Surprisingly, very little.  You can give your time, your support, or tangible material things. Sharing what you have is an act of kindness. I was listening to the BBC yesterday, and a young squatter told of moving into an abandoned building as Spain becomes colder and he was not longer able to live on the streets. After he moved in he received furniture, food, and blankets from neighbours.  These are acts of kindness, and the essence of caring and respect for humanity.

How do we integrate kindness into our lives? Little by little, day by day, is the answer.   A well honed character, is practiced at kindness to themselves and to others.  A kind person is recognised and respected and they are essential for making our communities human and worth living in.

Kerwin, A. (2011) On Kindness. HERDSA News, September, 29-30.

Phillips, A., &  Taylor, B. (2010) On Kindness. New York: Farrar, Strausss and Giroux.

30 Minutes of Kindness: http://www.kensfi.com/30-minutes-of-kindness/

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