It feels as though there is a lot of unkindness around at the moment. Trump is being horrid to Hilary (and other women), MEPs are seemingly slogging it out in Brussels, and some of us here in the United (soon to be Isolated) Kingdom have allowed our fears for our uncertain futures to become prejudice against our friends and colleagues from Europe. This makes me sad. So what can I do about it? What positivity can I personally inject into an increasingly toxic and confused situation?
Let’s turn to an expert. When asked what his religion was, His Holiness the Dalai Lama replied: “Kindness”.
So I’m going to try to be kinder and less judgemental. To just allow things to be and not get all puffed up about how “wrong” they are. To accept that even if people are acting really stupidly or with anger, I don’t need to interact with that part of them, but instead seek the bits of them that are loving and compassionate. Perhaps look out as well for the bits of them that are hurting. This isn’t going to be easy! The older I get, the shorter my fuse. But I’ll do my best.
Where to start? Maybe just smile at people. I don’t mean leering, just a quick, friendly image of friendliness. Smiles bring out the best in peoples’ features; even an apparently plain face becomes beautiful when it wears a smile, particularly a loving one. Smiles are not hampered by the inadequacy of language, nor held back by rationality. They just are, pure and simple.
We’ve all noticed, I’m sure, that whilst out walking in the lovely Cotswolds – and elsewhere in Nature – people actually say “Hi!” when you pass them on the bridleway. Occasionally, a conversation might happen. I don’t think this would be the case in Stroud High Street, let alone on the London Tube, despite the encouraging badges. So how about we start a trend? We say “Hi!” to complete strangers in our respective metropolises, accompanied naturally with a smile. Perhaps beginning with 5 a day – like fruit and veg for our bodies, this could be good for our souls.
Here’s another – seasonal – thought: some years ago, at the Findhorn Foundation leading up to Christmas, a group of us played a game called “Angels and Mortals”. Some 25 people put their names into a hat and then drew a name out randomly, not divulging who they had drawn. They became a secret Angel for that person, finding out about their needs and desires, then answering those needs anonymously. A book someone had wanted would mysteriously turn up on their doorstep, a friend they had lost touch with would suddenly make contact, or an envelope with tickets for a concert would drop onto the mat. It wasn’t about spending lots of money, but it was about spending lots of goodwill.
The great bonus for the Angel was getting to know their Mortal better, as a kind of invisible networking went on, with careful questions asked of their friends and family, discrete digging into their recent past. And, of course, excitement mounted as the Christmas holiday approached; “Who could my Angel be?”, “Has my Mortal guessed yet?” Then, at a festive party, the Angelic host revealed itself to itself, with much hilarity and gratitude, incredulity as to how secret aspirations were uncovered, congratulations on the clever research ruses adopted and the lengths undertaken to conceal Angels’ identities.
Of course, Kindness can be effective in less exciting ways too. Sometimes it’s enough just being with someone regularly, being consistent, listening, watching out for how they are feeling, intuiting perhaps what they may be going through. Not judging, not trying to “fix” things – just being a friendly and undemanding witness.
And while we’re considering Kindness, it would be good to see how we could extend it to include other sentient beings. It doesn’t cost us anything more to be kind to animals; we could perhaps refrain from buying meat that has been reared in cruel conditions, we could encourage our children not to pull the wings off bluebottles, or we could reflect on the last few weeks in the life of a foie gras duck and choose an alternative Yuletide treat.
Finally, I’d welcome examples of random – or premeditated – acts of Kindness, both because it would be good to know that they are happening, and as an inspiration to others to follow suit, to take up the habit.