In the dappled, welcome shade of one of Waiheke’s most beautiful overhanging pohutukawa, I’m selecting matching stones for a small, slim under-two-year-old to consign to the rising tide with an impressively well-formed overhand style. After which he will trot on along the beach in pursuit of some inner direction compounded of rock and sun-sparks and welks in flooding pools.
In an overarching amity, neither of us are saying anything, while his brother floats equally peaceably under the branches on an old surfboard.
In a life that’s usually far too distracted and busy, it occurs to me that “this is it”. Perfect. Whole and complete. Nothing to get or do.
This is Christmas on Waiheke. We’re preparing for the summer crowds but at the same time mesmerised by the colours of the ocean and sky and the hues as successive pohutukawa put on their summer blaze of red to drag our eyes upward as well as outward to the limitless horizon.
It’s been an unusual year, ominous on many fronts but also quietly hopeful.
Kindness is making a comeback, in the same way that faces of every shape and age beaming affection and delight in Love Actually’s opening airport scene set a benchmark for a fairly unfashionable way of being in the world – a working model of loving truly and deeply as it really is.
Rediscovered in a polarising world where rudeness and suspicion have come to be a norm and bad things so often happen to good people (while bad people sometimes exceed beyond their wildest dreams), kindness is replacing mindfulness as the buzzword for how we should live.
Our new, young prime minister can take considerable credit on the world stage for making it fashionable again, to the point where it has even hopped in through the narrow ‘Overton window’ of what’s allowable in political discourse and continues to take political ground.
Earlier this year, Observer magazine commissioning editor Eva Wiseman pointed out that kindness is not new. More than 300 years before Christ, the classical philosopher Aristotle said it was “the characteristic of the magnanimous man to ask no favour but to be ready to do kindness to others.” Five hundred years later, Marcus Aurelius, a Roman philosopher and the last of the empire’s five “good” emperors, said that kindness is mankind’s “greatest delight”.
“As religion’s hold on our culture has weakened, and with it the insistence upon loving thy neighbour, a certain selfishness has come to be expected,” said Wiseman.
So are we becoming more compassionate? “Affection, gentleness, warmth, concern, and care are words that are associated with kindness,” she said, but it has also developed a connotation of meaning someone is naive or weak. “Being kind often requires courage and strength. Kindness is an interpersonal skill.”
Darwin’s survival of the fittest is usually associated with selfishness, meaning that to survive the basic instinct is to look out for yourself, said Wiseman. “But Darwin, who studied human evolution, actually didn’t see mankind as being biologically competitive and self-interested. Darwin believed that we are a profoundly social and caring species. He argued that sympathy and caring for others is instinctual.
“Current research supports this idea. Science has now shown that devoting resources to others, rather than having more and more for yourself, brings about lasting well-being. Kindness has been found by researchers to be the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. Many colleges, including Harvard, are now emphasizing kindness on applications for admission,” she said.
Our mission, as we go into Christmas, is to enjoy – and be genuinely generous with – the people with whom we will share all the living we do between cradle and grave. We are, after all, in this together, no matter what.
We wish everyone a deeply satisfying Christmas and a wonderful summer break.
• Liz and the team at Gulf News