Let’s make 2013 the year of kindness

I have no personal resolutions for the year. But I do have hopes. And I thought I’d share one with you. Late last year I posted about the eventual end of the Earth.  The planet is not going anywhere. But we might.

Earth. An image I made with my Celestia installation (cool, free, science package).

Earth. An image I made with my Celestia installation (cool, free, science package).

When I look across human history, at the fighting, at the injustices we do to each other in so many ways, I think the human condition carries the seeds of its own destruction.

I see it everywhere, near and far; I see it in my own life in the the petty intellectualised denials of worth in their peers, on which New Zealand’s historical academics float their egoes,  I see it in the behaviours of thugs who seem to think that knives and threats, or beating up people in their own homes, can earn respect. I see it in the way that people in one country plot the death of those in another and feel good for doing so. It is an awful indictment of the human condition.

Where is kindness?

No matter how often we insist wars are over, that we’ve learned from past mistakes, injustices keep happening. And today, with twenty first century technology, it’s worse than ever. Instant personal communication anywhere in the world is a miracle by the standards of a generation ago. What do some use it for? Bullying. Nuclear weapons cannot be un-invented. Diseases are a natural threat, and science has discovered ways of making them worse. We’re using resources like there’s no tomorrow.

One theory is that we suffer from a faulty survival mechanism. According to this idea, back in the Pleistocene, altruism helped humans survive. Kindness counted. We see this in the archaeological record, not least in stone age humans with crippling disease or injury kept alive solely by the kindness of others. But there were also advantages to bands of humans competing with each other.  ‘Us and them’ kept the bands tight, drove them to command their environment. The oppostition worked when humanity consisted of clusters of groups, widely scattered. But, the argument goes, it doesn’t work in larger societies.

Certainly humanity has an endless capacity to abstract and intellectualise the darker side of the human condition. And along the way I cannot help thinking that reason, tolerance and kindness get lost.

Some remember kindness. I am impressed with the work of Bill Gates. This man helped make the modern computing world, and now he’s helping cure some of the world’s problems.

Kindness counts, and we need to remind ourselves of that every so often. Reason allows us to see the problems , tolerance allows us to accept others – to let go of what we perceive as a threat to our own self-beliefs - and kindness is the way to deal with others. We must ask not how do others threaten us, but how can we help them?

It may sound naive, but it’s not rocket science. And wouldn’t it be great to make 2013 the year of kindness.

What do you figure?

 Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

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24 comments on “Let’s make 2013 the year of kindness

  1. Time and again we see simple acts of kindness that tame wild beasts. We should learn from these animals. To put kindness to others first would result in world peace. I love the book “Pay It Forward” because it taps into this simple yet quite ignored concept. Count me in! 2013 is the year of Kindness.

  2. Julia Indigo says:

    Beautiful, Matthew. This is just what I was thinking.
    I’ve stepped back from the shouting match that is Facebook, and returned to writing again.

    Blessings to you in the New Year!

  3. Riane Eisler has written an interesting book titled The Chalice and the Blade you might find of some use. Essentially, she develops a concept she calls “dominator psychology” which relates to the problems you note above.

    It also reminds me of something I’m sure I read somewhere by Joseph Campbell, but I’ve never been able to track it down, to the effect that without mythology all art is reduced to little but blood and sex. (“Lechery, lechery; still, wars and lechery. Nothing else holds fashion.” Which isn’t Campbell, of course, but the same notion.) I don’t believe science and religion are fundamentally incompatible but it does seem that a lot of people do, and I think that historically we humans have linked moral behavior to fear of retribution from an angry deity to the point that, without belief in a God or gods, we lose our moral compass.

    Is this necessary? It is if we believe it is; it isn’t if we don’t. The question becomes, who do we choose to be?

    What do you think? ;)

    • I think that is an extremely pertinent question – who do we choose to be? And one, I fear, that few people actively consider. I also suspect that moral compass can be lost, irrespective of belief in organised religion or otherwise; witness the world’s history of wars fought in the name of one religion or another. I am thinking particularly of the Crusades, but it is not hard to find other examples. A lot, I suspect, comes down to individual choice – over who we choose to be. And there is also peer pressure. And yet it is also possible to think of wars brought to an end by the virtues of such belief systems; here in New Zealand, for example, I contend that Maori actively used the structures and systems of the missionaries to help end the so-called ‘musket wars’ in 1835-40. The missionaries credited themselves with it. but matters were rather more complex than that from the ethnographic perspective. (I published this argument a year or so back in one of my books). Part of the human problem is the way everything we do is eventually layered, buried beneath massively complex intellectualisation or surface issues which are, unquestionably, important at the time and place. But at the end of the day, I think it doesn’t hurt for people to step back and just remind themselves occasionally of some basic values – starting with kindness.

  4. [...] I popped over to Matthew Wright’s site today. He has written a lovely article I would like to draw everyone’s attention to. Matthew hopes that the world can make 2013 the Year Of Kindness. [...]

  5. How to popularise that act in our modern society is a difficult one, I think the Dalai Lama is a fabulous role model for it and is one who shares his wisdom and practical tools, which require no funds, just a little bit of motivation or desire to improve. Practicing in the relationships around us is the best place to start, but its tough, because even kindness today can be judged as weakness or even betrayal, we will always be tested, but I’m with you, kindness and compassion are the only route.

  6. Yes! More kindness please :-)
    One of my resolutions for 2013 is actually to be kinder. For that, i’ll need to be more patient first. Whenever I’m grumpy, it usually comes from impatience…

  7. Richard Wiseman says:

    I agree. Let’s make that word a 2013 ‘buzz word’ ; let’s work the idea of kindness into every aspect of human thinking. The UK PM talked about ‘increasing happiness’ a year or so ago and the last UK census asked a happiness question; all of which was laughed at by the media. Supposing we take the initiative and make kindness a national and global agenda item, get ‘people’ to start talking about ‘human kind’ not people. Great stuff! I was ‘sent’ here by Robyn O and will be back to read more. Happy New Year.

  8. brainwise says:

    I’m in! Let’s make “Kindness” the word-of-the-year in 2013 … and beyond!

  9. Love it. Reminds me of a quote in my classroom: “Gratitude is the mark of a good person.” You could replace that with kindness.

  10. KM Huber says:

    This beautiful essay reminds me that joy, gratitude, compassion, and love are emotions in which kindness resides, where the ego does not trod. Perhaps if we can react less and respond more, we will mark 2013 as the year of kindness. Count me in.

    Karen

    • Thank you – and I very much appreciate your thoughts. You’re right – a good deal of unkindness comes from reacting without thinking – from that collision between ego and reality. The answer is to be able to let go – something easier said than done, of course, but there is nothing wrong with trying. Small steps. After a while, the mountain has been climbed.

      Here’s hoping for a 2013 of kindness!

  11. I found this wiki how to article on tips for paying it forward, and thought your 2013 initiative. Periodic articles like this one might help to keep kindness at the forefront of readers’ minds.

    http://www.wikihow.com/Pay-It-Forward

    I loved the book Pay It Forward, the movie not as much. Probably not a new concepts but I liked the way the author made it fresh with her characters.

  12. [...] Wright, a blogger that I read regularly, recently published a thoughtful post on the possibility of 2013 as the year of kindness. I was especially taken with Matthew’s suggestion that we remove the ego from our lives and [...]

  13. Sunshine says:

    kindness is easy yet difficult at times especially when we feel like being self-ish. gentle reminders like this helps to stay kind. thanks! <3

  14. S. Thomas Summers says:

    Amen to that!

    S. Thomas Summers
    Author of Private Hercules McGraw: Poems of the American Civil War

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