Try a little kindness

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    ‘There’s plenty of kindness to go around – it’s not pie,’ says the T-shirt.

    ‘Love, peace, equality, KINDNESS,’ says the fridge magnet. American film critic, historian, journalist, screenwriter, and author Roger Ebert went one better and concluded that kindness covered all of his political beliefs.  

    There was, he said, no need to spell them out. “I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do.

    “To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world.

    “That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try.

    “I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out,” said the writer – the first ever to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism – who died in 2013.

    However, the modern world – for all its technological advances in communication – gives little evidence that we prize or practice the virtue on either ourselves or others.

    Rightly or wrongly, neoliberalism has been deemed to have crowded kindness out of the political lexicon of allowable discourse for several generations who probably didn’t have much Sunday School to give them at least a semblance of the values their parents espoused either. 

    The “normalisation” of macro-level unkindness is, for them, just par for the course.

    America is incarcerating children in chainmesh cages, its civilians own more guns than most of the rest of the planet and a Confederate insurgence in Donald Trump’s image battles for that right to continue to do so. It’s also returning to spewing toxins into streams, mercury from coal plants, reckless carbon emissions and oil exploitation in previously protected lands and waters. 

    The narrative appears to be that the protection of others limits the rights of white men, and those rights should be unlimited, a Guardian opinion piece said this week. “Make America Great Again harks back to some antebellum fantasy of white male dominance,” it said, blaming an illusion of poverty, a sense that there is not enough for everyone and a narrow definition of “us” for what was little less than actual civil war at the behest of an openly confederate president.

    It’s plain we need more kindness and on Tuesday – with the rather undistinguished date of November 13 – we actually had World Kindness Day.

     “I want the government … to bring kindness back, new-minted New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told John Campbell just over a year ago in a radio interview on her way to form the new government.

    She said she wanted the new government to “feel different”, to be empathetic and kind.

    “I want it to feel like we are a government that’s truly focused on everybody.

    “I know I need to transcend politics in the way that I govern for this next term of Parliament but I also want this government to feel different, I want people to feel that it’s open, that it’s listening and that it’s going to bring kindness back.

    “I know that will sound curious but to me if people see they have an empathetic government I think they’ll truly understand that when we’re making hard calls that we’re doing it with the right focus in mind.

    “This will be a government that works with others.

    “Empathy is the one thing that I think that’s your foundation, that’s your grounding, and we’ll keep ourselves in constant check.”

    Since then, she has taken the same message to the United Nations and to successive heads of state gatherings around the world, showing up as one of the a wave of young world leaders with inclusive and generous values. 

    Perhaps coincidentally, and against the background of the sensibilities of the Armistice centenary, the French and German heads of state of state Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel this week even used the ‘K” word in the context of the current global crossroads between guns and populist tribalism and a more generous way forward.

    There are 7.7 billion of us, and one small kindness a day would certainly make the world a more peaceful place. It’s too simple for our complicated mjnds. And in some ways, we knew that better before a century with two catastrophic world wars than we do now.

    • Liz Waters

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