In the past few weeks we have seen that kindness is a philosophy – a way of life that encompasses tolerance, reason, thought and compassion. And, it seems to me, all the more necessary as the planet becomes ever more crowded, ever more polluted, and as our resources diminish.
Alas, a quick glance at any news bulletin reveals inhumanities from civil wars to terrorism to horrific stories of toddlers being run over in China and left to die because strangers are too scared to intervene, lest they be held financially liable. Every day we hear stories of muggings, robberies and other deeds. And that’s without considering the ways people are unkind to each other in everyday life.
There are many causes. However, one of them, it seems to me, is the way we enwtine our sense of self-worth around an ambition, a desire or a cause. And when that is intruded upon – when our self-worth seems slighted – what happens? Why, the wrong must be avenged! And the hatred that follows is neither rational, nor reasonable.
What’s more, revenge happens on all levels. Remember World War 2? The how-and-why has been subject to relentless analysis, but it boils down to one point; Germany was sore at its defeat in 1918, particularly at the hands of France. A little Austrian corporal with shell shock managed to exploit that sense of popular injustice to get himself into power – and engineer revenge. It was made explicit in 1940. When the French capitulated, Hitler made a point of humiliating them in ways that related to 1918, even down to having them sign the armistice in the same railway carriage used to sign Germany’s capitulation in 1918.
Why do we keep doing it? Revenge initially feels good. Not only good, but – so it’s been shown via scientific analysis - more rewarding than kindness. And, as if it wasn’t enough to have that time bomb entwined into the human psyche, we’re also bombarded with the message daily. What’s the slogan? ‘Don’t get mad – get even!’ We always hear that ‘revenge is sweet’. We are even sold books and movies because we can, vicariously, feel that sense of thrill as a character wreaks revenge on those who wronged them.
It’s insidious, and what worries me is that it’s also accepted. You’ve been slighted? No problem – hunt down the miscreant and smash them over. Bwahahahahaha!
There is, of course, a catch; what those studies also found was that the people wreaking revenge not only kept the sense of injustice alive – and thus felt worse for it – but that the act of revenge itself had a psychological backfire point, afterwards.
In other words, it was a momentary sense of satisfaction only.
Kindness? Well, guess what. The feel-good sense lasts. So kindness trumps revenge in the end. A no-brainer, really. Except…well, the human condition also pushes us towards instant gratification – the path of revenge. So I fear that the philosophies of kindness that are important to us – that will make it possible for us to survive as a species, once the planet hits the tipping point and ruin is upon us – will get lost along the way.
Our world, in short, won’t blow up in a sudden armageddon. It’ll get ugly, nasty, and die horribly and slowly. Unless we make the conscious effort to have a philosophy of kindness.
What do you figure about this one?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013