I worry this post may come off as a bit twee, like those dreadful inspirational prints some people insist on littering their homes with (why do you need to advertise you have a house of love? To distinguish yourself from those who prefer to live in hate? You protest too much).
The older I get the more convinced I become that all there needs to be is kindness.
Be kind to Syrians. Be kind to transsexuals. Be kind to future unborn inhabitants of our planet. To furry friends. Be kind to your spouse. To colleagues. To the stranger. And above all, to yourself.
What else is there? And why not be? To be unkind is rooted in selfishness. Even being unkind to yourself is ultimately selfish, as it disregards those that depend on and/or love you. To choose to be offended is unkind to the presumed offender. The list goes on.
I’d prefer to drop the “love thy neighbour” meme. That word is overused and has lost its potency. Let’s talk about kindness instead.
One of my internet girlfriends parted with the observation that I was “Kind, thoughtful and a great lover”. I thought…sheesh. Whatever you perceive I lack, sweetie, I’ll take “kind” over what you are looking for all the damn day long.
I’m no angel of mercy and benevolence, of course. There is ample scope for improvement. Whatever. This poem by Naomi Shihab Nye is perhaps over-quoted but what the hell. It works.
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.