I’ve been posting for a few weeks about the importance of kindness. Especially in this day and age. And we all know what kindness is….don’t we?
Well, I figure yes – and no. Let me explain.
In most ways kindness is obvious. It’s about doing things for other people, altruistically, with no reward for yourself other than the feel-good factor of knowing you’ve helped someone. It can be as small as a smile to a passing stranger; or as large as you like.
But to me it’s more than that. Kindness is underpinned by many related ideas, including ‘thoughtfulness’ – making sure you don’t do something to somebody that is unkind, even by accident.
In order to be ‘thoughtful’ we must also understand what people are doing, and why. That draws in ‘compassion’. Understanding’ also demands ‘reason’ – we have to be able to think our way through the issues. It demands ‘tolerance’ – because if we allow ourselves to see somebody else as a threat to our own ways or self-esteem, we are likely to lose ‘reason’, ‘understanding’ and ‘kindness’.
To me both ‘understanding’ and ‘tolerance’ also demand ‘abstraction’; an ability to step back and not allow the emotions that cripple our kindness – anger and revenge, mainly – to intrude. More on this anti-kindness pitfall in a later post.
Kindness, in short, is a word that encompasses a philosophy; a philosophy of care, of compassion, of thought, of reason, of tolerance, of abstraction and of understanding. Particularly, of understanding the human condition – for if we understand that, then we can know and avoid the pitfalls.
All these things are the tools that make kindness possible – reliably, often, as an everyday part of life. They also surprisingly difficult to do, for reasons which I’ll explain about in a subsequent post.
And yet I can think of people who do this, right now. And there is a fictional character who does all these things too.
Not the 1960s Spock of Star Trek (1965-67), but the multi-dimensional Spock of the later movies, the elder Spock of the 2009 re-boot especially. The difference was specific; in the 1960s, Spock was prisoner of an emotionless Vulcan biology in which his ‘human half’ had to be allowed to shine through. A contrived character. But by the 2000s, Spock had become a much more developed character, and his emotionless approach had become something else – a philosophy. Vulcans were violently emotive; they had to find ways of controlling their destructive side. And where does a philosophy of calm logic, science, abstraction from emotion (especially anger, if you’ve seen the movie) and reason lead us? By Spock’s rules, it is to kindness.
What do you figure? I’d love to hear from you on this one.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013