Yesterday I was waiting to enter the elevator with my full-sized bicycle, and it arrived with an elderly couple. I usually prefer to ask people to go ahead as no one likes feeling stuck with a bicycle diagonally imprisoning them into a corner. But the couple cajoled me into the elevator even though I kept asking them to move on. They were full of smiles with tender voices and a body language bleeding with kindness. Once again I felt the quality of my day change after the encounter, and it made me contemplate the interaction for a long while as I was cycling.
Having taken the elevator plenty of times with a bicycle, it is definitely not the norm to encounter kindness. When I first started doing food delivery, I was paranoid about losing my bicycle, so I would wheel my foldie into the elevator with me, and several times I would encounter unpleasant reactions. Elevators seem to be a common trigger for people. So, the tender behaviour of the old couple made me all emotional inside.
I think we have gotten the narrative about kindness wrong. Kindness has been pitched to us as though it is our inherent human quality, that it is only right and natural as a human being to be kind. To be otherwise goes against our instincts. Maybe that is true if we are born in a utopia, but most of us are raised in a competitive, harsh, capitalistic society. There is a lot of conscious and unconscious programming that makes us believe it doesn’t pay to be kind, and in reality, it seems like the ruthless hustling types who get rewarded.
In my opinion, growing a hard shell and being detached from other human beings is the norm. To survive psychologically we have to learn to ignore people’s suffering. Many a time, we are conditioned to think about our selves first.
I think being kind takes extra effort, whether the effort comes from resisting society’s programming or going against our instincts to be self-centered. It should be recognised as such. But I think somehow we have some paradoxical complex beliefs about kindness: that it should be inherent so we don’t fully appreciate it or try to cultivate the capacity to be kind, or the other extreme end where we think it is so rare so we celebrate it when acts of kindness gets published in the news, thinking it is not within our reach.
I think we should encourage kindness not because it is right or nice, we should encourage it precisely because it is not necessary. We should not see ourselves – human beings – as utilitarian creatures, but beings who are capable of values that belong to a transcendent level. We should be kind because we are capable of being kind, that we should see ourselves as more than creatures who are driven purely by needs. I think kindness shouldn’t be driven by moral teachings either: we should aspire to be more, not to be right. Isn’t it wonderful that we are capable of choosing to do unnecessary things?
I feel that we sell ourselves short when we see kindness as a moral neccessity. Kindness is something that transcends justification. It accentuates life and gifts us a deeper dimension to our selves and our relationships to others.
It is like cooking: do we cook simply to feed ourselves or do we cook to experience flavours of possible dimensions? It would be sad if we think of ourselves as creatures who should simply go through the motions of living, to merely survive.
To cultivate a presence and being who is capable of changing the quality of someone’s day through simple interactions, to know what it is like to be capable of bringing someone joy just by being ourselves, isn’t that an existence that is worth aspiring for? Not because it is the right or better thing to do, but to open up spaces in people in a harsh by default environment, to me that is almost like magic, something that shouldn’t even exist because it is so against the grain. That, I think is something beautiful that I have experienced in the human spirit.
This would perhaps be addressed in another post, but I have to say that the capacity to develop kindness is often a privilege in this society. Many people have too many life stresses to cope with. Cultivating kindness in itself requires space, a space that is not afforded to many millions of oppressed people. It remains a tragedy of our species that we think of ourselves as powerful when we mistreat our very own, that somehow we pat ourselves on the back when we deprive others of opportunities to aspire.