Think of a close friend that you’ve known for half your life. How likely are you to pay a gang to beat him up on the street?
Recently, I got into a conversation with someone I just met. He’s in his early 50’s. He is larger than me, yet he has a soft, fatherly voice. In fact, he is a father, his youngest kid is still in school.
At one point, our conversation was interrupted by a phone call.
When he answered it, his voice changed. It became commanding. After he hung up, he laughed coldly, and his breaths sounded heavier. He told me that the hairs on his forearm stood up.
That call was from a gang leader he paid. They just finished “teaching a lesson” to his old friend. He had known that friend for 30 years.
Months ago, the friend convinced him to invest in a metal recycling business. He later found out that the friend had cheated him.
He lost almost all of his family savings. His voice broke a bit when he said he had to ask his daughter to work instead of going to university. They just don’t have enough money.
The police, according to him, wasn’t very helpful (he suspected that the case officer was bought off), and he couldn’t afford an extended legal battle. When he confronted his friend, the friend threatened to hire someone to kill him.
He paused as he noticed how quiet I became.
I didn’t know what to say. Being dominantly an introvert, even light conversations take a lot of energy. And this was anything but light. I barely knew him, and I had no idea what’s the most helpful thing to say.
All I could think of was telling him about a friend that I just lost, and how it has impacted me. Her death was so unexpected; a forceful reminder about how temporary life is. I implied that some battles are not worth spending our short life fighting for. Because they don’t take us closer to peace; they just drag us deeper into the abyss.
Before I left, he apologized for making me uncomfortable by sharing that story. It was uncomfortable, but I didn’t mind. I just hope our conversation somehow helped a bit. He then told me that he’s not a bad person.
Perhaps he is not. It isn’t my place to judge either way.
Kindness is not always easy
Because we live in an imperfect world, being kind is difficult at times. There are situations where it’s easy to find reasons to be cruel — to hurt someone, with the things we say, or the things we do. In my reflection about kindness, I am personally drawn to three ideas:
Never underestimate the external influence
It is easy to believe that we will always be as kind – more or less – as we are today. But is it true? If we are continuously being wronged and stressed out, will that change us?
The answer, for most of us, is likely yes.
Of course, we rarely go from zero to evil in a single day. The escalation is gradual — perhaps from quietly suppressed frustrations, to sarcasms, to rudeness, to verbal aggressiveness, to physical violence.
So, awareness of the external influence is the first crucial step. Think about whether our environments at home or at work is psychologically healthy for us. How has it changed us so far? How will it change us in the future?
Make it easier for others to be kind
From another vantage point, think about how we contribute into creating our environments.
The ways we treat others have ripple effects. If we upset a workmate, she might not do anything to us. But the stress may influence her to be rude to her husband at home. Then the husband may vent his anger at their daughter. Then the next day, she may unleash that resentment towards her teacher.
Sure, we could say it’s not all our fault, and logic agrees. But that’s irrelevant; it’s not about blame.
It’s about what we do to create conducive environments where being kind, being helpful, and being generous are easier.
So if your sister cooks for you, do the dishes right after the meals. If you use a scientific instrument that belongs to others, do the procedures that prevent its long term damages. If your colleague shares an idea, don’t steal the credit, acknowledge them. If you are a leader, don’t overwork your team. If you’re a team member, don’t add unnecessary burden to your leader.
We are all imperfect. And often we’re under such a pressure that makes kindness seems like an unaffordable moral luxury. So we need to help one another.
We need to make kindness easier.
Go beyond the external world
Kindness, like most habits, needs to be reinforced every day. By practicing it whenever possible, even in tiny ways, we train our mind to automatically activate that behavioural pattern.
Habits evolve into character.
Ultimately, the aim is to root our kindness upon something beyond the outside world. Root it firmly in God, Higher Self, or however you express it, so you will always choose kindness even when the opposite is far more tempting.
If you want your home to always have light, you don’t do it by hoping the bright day to stop turning into the dark night. You build a lamp.
If you want kindness to become the essence of your state of being, you don’t hope for the absence of the darkness outside. The illumination has to be found within.