This post on kindness was going to be my Christmas message until the massacre in Newtown forced me, and many others, to rage against the inhumanity of the US gun laws.
Mind you, even at Sandy Hook, there was evidence of extraordinary human behaviour: ‘What we forget, too often, is the kindness and resilience of this nation.’ And, way beyond kindness, who will forget the heroic bravery of Victoria Soto and her colleagues?
On 18 November, the TV producer John Lloyd was on Desert Island Discs. He is behind such programmes as Spitting Image, Not The Nine o’Clock News, QI and, yippee, Blackadder. In a surprisingly introspective interview, this cultured and educated man said:
‘Intelligence is something you’re given. Kindness? That takes effort.’
It emerged that Lloyd has developed a personal philosophy based largely on what he felt to have been unfair and cruel treatment by people he thought were friends and on ‘The Book: On the Taboo Against Being Who You Are’, written by the mystical Alan Watts in 1966.
Through personal experience, I have seen there is a nice way to do something – or a nasty way. It is a choice. For example, dismissing someone from their job is always going to distress the person concerned, but how many companies and executives ask themselves ‘We need to do this nasty thing, so how can we do it kindly?’ It doesn’t happen, does it?
As John Lloyd said: ‘Kindness? That takes effort.’
Making the effort to be kind is nothing new. In ‘Rhetoric’, Aristotle defined kindness as: ‘helpfulness towards someone in need, not in return for anything, nor for the advantage of the helper himself, but for that of the person helped’.
As such, isn’t kindness something we should have more of?
Mind you, as I have found to my cost (20p in fact), kindness can rebound.
You all know about Sachin, my local newsagent. One day, I was in his shop and, as I was chatting to him, a young boy came in and browsed the comics on display. He selected one and said to Sachin:
‘How much is this, please?’
‘I’ve only got 80p’ said the boy, lips quivering, eyes watering.
So crestfallen was the child that, kind-hearted and generous as ever, I took some loose change out of my pocket and gave him a 20p coin.
‘There you are. You can buy that comic now’ I said, saintly.
At this point, the boy grabbed the coin from my hand and comic-less, but 20p richer, ran out of the shop.
I looked up at Sachin as he shook his head and rolled his eyes:
‘You’re so naïve, Hugh’ he said, wisely.
I think my interest in kindness came from my father. Many of my generation, whose fathers fought in the Second World War, are conscious of how kind their fathers were. Perhaps, by experiencing the horrors of war, they evolved a philosophy of kindness which, these days, many of us will not have thought of – let alone adopt as a conscious standard of behaviour.
For myself, I had my own experience of man’s inhumanity to man on an early visit to the War Museum in Saigon which I described here and, more embarrassingly, spoke about here. How can one forget such horrors in one’s day-to-day life, especially when experienced first hand? Perhaps we should find ways to pay for our underclasses to visit such places.
On 14 November, a few days before John Lloyd was on Desert Island Discs in England, was the story of Larry DePrimo, a police officer in New York who took pity on a homeless person and made the effort to go to a shoe shop and buy the vagrant some new boots.
In the face of the horror of Sandy Hook, perhaps now would be a good time to celebrate the kindness of the American people and hope that this basic human instinct will prevail.
And perhaps one might consider for what kind intention has a good guy a gun?
Happy New Year.