Saturday, 6 June 2015

We Believe in Human Kindness

“Kindness: The First Gift” by John O'Donohue

There is a kindness that dwells deep down in things; it presides everywhere, often in the places we least expect. The world can be harsh and negative, but if we remain generous and patient, kindness inevitably reveals itself. Something deep in the human soul seems to depend on the presence of kindness; something instinctive in us expects it, and once we sense it we are able to trust and open ourselves…

The word kindness has a gentle sound that seems to echo the presence of compassionate goodness. When someone is kind to you, you feel understood and seen. There is no judgment or harsh perception directed toward you. Kindness has gracious eyes; it is not small-minded or competitive; it wants nothing back for itself. Kindness strikes a resonance with the depths of your own heart; it also suggests that your vulnerability, though somehow exposed, is not taken advantage of; rather, it has become an occasion for dignity and empathy. Kindness casts a different light, an evening light that has the depth of color and patience to illuminate what is complex and rich in difference.”

...John O'Donohue had such a beautiful way of catching the deeper meaning of everything...

“We believe in human kindness” I was told by a lifetime Unitarian that for her these simple words speak of her faith. She says that we believe in human kindness.

Kindness is one of those words that is often derided these days. In fact I’ve heard people mocked for claiming a belief in it. I’ve heard the claim that it is not much of a foundation on which to build a faith. The more cynical and critical may also claim that there is no such thing as human kindness.

Is this so?

I have just spent a week where I have experienced nothing but kindness. Ok so for most of it I was with my nearest and dearest. That said I still noticed kindness, simple human kindness being shown towards me. It was lovely, truly beautiful and I enjoyed it immensely. It refreshed and revived me as I enjoyed the kindness of “kin”. I spent a week truly bathing in “The kin-dom of love”.

Now as it happens this is something I experience in most of my interactions I enjoy with other people. People show me affection and kindness and offer a welcoming space to me. Not everyone of course, but most. Do you know what I rarely even notice these days when folk aren’t and when do I am increasingly learning not to take this too personally. I know today that most of the time when people are unpleasant toward me it is more about where they are at than anything to do me.

Yes most of these days I am shown kindness and experience it in my daily living. I do experience that all-encompassing kin-dom of love both within myself and amongst the people I share my life with. I offer thanks and praise for this.

Now I can’t claim that this has always been the case. Now is this because the world has changed? It would seem not. No, more than anything it due to my experience of life changing. There was a time when I found kindness hard to take and accept. I often rejected it and turned from it. I didn’t trust it and thought to myself “What do they want, you can’t trust kindness.” I grew quite cynical of those who were seemingly kind. I sometimes feel sad about this, as it was a horribly lonely and unfeeling way to live.

I do hear that same tired, lonely voice in the world in which we all live and breathe and have our being. Cynicism is a disease. Kindness is a word that is often scoffed at. How often are the so called “do-gooders” in the world seen as foolish? We do seem to be living in times where the “Kin-dom of Love” is just the idealists dream, or religious nonsense.

I think that they are wrong and it does not have to be like this. We do not have to live in the cynic’s nightmare. If you look around you and look carefully, paying attention with an open heart you will become aware of kindness all around. Our task is I believe is to be both open to it and to allow it to radiate from our being.

“May we be filled with loving kindness, may we be well.”

Now the cynic’s will say I’m merely a dreamer, but I know I am not the only one.

Anita Roddick, the founder of the Body Shop is one too. She has often spoken of her belief in human kindness and the need to develop it as a spiritual practice, something she has seen as the essence of all the great religious traditions of the world. In her book "A Revolution in Kindness she wrote:

"To me, kindness is one of the most important words in the English language. It's enormously resonant and life-enhancing. And yet, over the past generation or so, it has begun to disappear from polite discourse. It's considered insipid, almost embarrassing. People are not praised for their kindness anymore. It is often viewed as something sanctimonious, patronizing and unrealistic — as if being kind somehow ignores the basic causes of a problem in the first place. Kindness carries with it implications of noblesse oblige, even snobbery . . .

Kindness is lumped along with “nice” as unrealistic and not possessing the power to bring about real change in the world, that it is simplistic, syrupy and worse still cowardly. Roddick though suggests the opposite claiming that kindness requires real courage as it goes against the grain of the times and does bring about change on a very human level. She further states that “…kindness doesn't have to be insipid or random to be effective. Far from it: deliberate kindness can be fierce, tenacious, unexpected, unconditional and sometime positively revolutionary…These qualities give kindness its power to create change, to make things happen. And in a period of human history in which we are obsessed with change — personal or political — and are unsure whether it is possible at all, kindness could be our salvation."

Could Kindness be our salvation. Could we actually bring about “The Kin-dom of Love” right here, right now.

John Lydon once sang that “Anger is an energy” and it most certainly is, that said so is kindness. It is a power if not an obvious one, as it does not shout or boast and operates at a simple one to one human level.

We have often heard it said that “Love makes the world go round”, well Forrest Church begged to differ. He claimed that “Love doesn't make the world go round; kindness does. Plus, it's a purer virtue. When you're kind to a taxi driver or check-out person, you expect nothing in return. And yet, if you make kindness a habit, others may find it contagious.” Church saw “kindness” as the purest virtue and the purest form of love, which he equated with agape love, self-giving love. This is the love spoken of in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians chapter 13. Where he states those immortal words. “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Kindness is at the core of the great religious traditions. Now in our ever increasing secular age this is just another reason to reject it. I had a conversation with someone I have known all my life about this very subject recently and their response was “That sounds a bit religious” and do you know what I believe that they are right, in fact its more than a bit religious. Kindness it is how to be religious in its most basic and simplest form, which is no doubt why that lifetime Unitarian says that “We believe in human kindness”

Kindness is the purest virtue and yet it is one we have seemingly forgotten, but it is there in the great faiths, at their core, in their essence.

Plato said “Be kind “for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” An ancient Arabian proverb claims that ”Blessed is the person who speaks a kindness; thrice blessed is the person who repeats it.” And in the Talmud it is said, “Deeds of kindness are equal in weight to all the commandments.” The book of Micah states “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Kindness is the first of the three great treasures advocated by Lao Tzu. The Buddha taught that generosity is a primary quality of an awakened mind. Muhammad regarded kindness as an essential sign of faith. Kindness is at the core of Christian ethics, it is considered the purest virtue.

Kindness is at the core of Buddhism. In contemporary times the Dalai Lama has said that “There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; my philosophy is kindness.” While the Buddha’s Metta Sutta taught “even as a mother protects with her life, her child, her only child, so with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings: radiating kindness over the entire world spreading upwards to the skies, and downwards to the depths; outwards and unbounded, free from hatred and ill-will.”

This is religion in its basic and simplest form. As the hymn goes “To worship rightly is to love each other; each smile a hymn, each kindly deed a prayer.”

Kindness is a power, it truly is an energy and it can be a transformative one. It can spread and take over and can begin to bring about the “Kin-dom of Love” right here right now. It begins right here, right now in our simple acts, words and deeds. That said it does so quietly and humbly, it does not shout it does not boast. It is the purest virtue.

Every day is a day when we can bear witness to a Power Greater than ourselves. We do this when we practise loving kindness, when we love one another, when we are glad to see each other, when we play, when we are light-hearted, when we can laugh at ourselves, when we live with exuberance and enthusiasm, when we grow from dust and become truly animated and live life. When we do this we recognise the Divine in one another and we see it in our own reflection, looking back at us in the glass, in our own eyes. We do not need to seek God, for God is already dwelling amongst us in each of our hearts. We just need to bring that Power to life. We know God’s blessings in our interactions with one another, when we bless one another with loving kindness through love and laughter. The way we look at one another, face to face has the Power to make God’s presence known on earth, right here right now. This is the “Kin-Dom of Love” and it begins with our acts. It begins with a belief in human kindness. It begins by worshipping rightly and to worship rightly is to simple love each other “Each smile a hymn, each kindly deed a prayer.”

I believe it is our task to bring the “Kin-dom of Love” to life, right here right now, in so doing we allow God to incarnate through our lives. It begins by simple human kindness. It is shown in our love for one another; it is shown in our laughter, our playfulness and our love for life.

I’m going to end this little chip of a "blogspot" with a story from the Desert Father’s, who were earlier Christians who tended to live apart from society and in community although sometimes alone.

There’s a monk who will never give you advice, but only a question. I was told his questions could be very helpful. I sought him out. “I am a parish priest,” I said. “I’m here on retreat. Could you give me a question?”

“Ah yes,” he answered. “My question is, ‘What do they need?’”

I came away disappointed. I spent a few hours with the question, writing out answers, but finally I went back to him.

“Excuse me. Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear. Your question has been helpful, but I wasn’t so much interested in thinking about my postulate during this retreat. Rather I wanted to think seriously about my own spiritual life, Could you give me a question for my own spiritual life?”

“Ah I see. Then my question is, ‘What do they REALLY need?’”

Do you believe in human kindness? Do you believe that this is what we the people really need?

I do!

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