I have been silent on this blog for some time. Today though I want to write about kindness. I have two reasons for this. First, because not enough people write about it. Second, because without kindness I can’t really see what the point of anything is.
Mostly I want to talk about kindness in relation to politics, policy and political and democratic process. I want particularly to do this, because we are living in a time of enormous political change, it is difficult to keep up with and take it all on board. It is happening here at home as well as globally, and finally if one thing above all seems to characterize it, then it is its cruelty. It is the antithesis of kind.
Let me briefly focus on the domestic situation because its impact for us in the UK is of course so powerful. Lately we have had the following:
Domestic politics, political agendas and political debate which have focused on attacking people – notably immigrants and refugees, and also people reliant on welfare benefits – but also many more, from the recipients of public service pensions and lone parents, to the post-war (supposedly overprivileged) ‘baby boomers’ and disabled people.
The referendum on our relation with the European Union; whether we should stay or leave. Whatever the actual arguments, this was primarily fought on attacking (again) refugees and immigrants, more general xenophobia (in relation to Europe) and a narrow kind of nationalist selfishness. The ‘brexit’ argument, ie to hate and fear others, won.
Finally, and partly related to the referendum, campaigns for new leaders for the two main political parties, Conservatives and Labour. There can be no doubt that nastiness underpinned the Tory campaign – remember the struggles between Gove, Boris and Leadsom and the final ‘winner’ May. A lot of very nasty things said and accused. A lot of settling of scores in the shaping of the Cabinet. But then this almost seems to pall next to the efforts of the parliamentary labour party (PLP) to unseat its democratically elected leader (on the ostensible basis that democratic elections don’t hold if ‘we’ say he isn’t good enough, however good anyone else might think he is) at the very time when the Conservative Party was at its most divided, weakest and most open to electoral defeat. A great deal of nastiness here.
So I’m setting the scene for what I see as political nastiness. I don’t know what the exact relationship is between such political nastiness and the widely agreed alienation of many people from politics, the dominant political parties and democratic process, but there is general agreement that this had a lot to do with the close brexit vote – which in any truly stable democracy would be seen as no basis for any major decision and merely a measure of the abnegation of political responsibility by politicians who seemed preoccupied with their personal ambitions and aspirations.
But of course this doesn’t tell us much about what kindness is, even if it may give us a pretty good picture of how cruel and publicly disliked conventional UK politics now are. (by the way little mention of the Green Party in all this, which has been quietly settling its own leadership re-election concerns at the same time and which has the same number of MPs as UKIP but barely a hundredth of the media coverage – maybe it is just too humane and kind!).
But let me get back to kindness. What is it? What do I and others mean by it? Why do we think it is important? Why are we so concerned that it currently seems to be so marginalized?
Well I don’t have a neat definition of kindness. But thinking about it carefully in relation to human relations, it seems to me it is about treating people as you might hope to be treated; not being cruel or vicious to them for no good reason (what good reasons are there?); avoiding insulting, degrading and discriminatory attitudes and language; trying to treat people with equality and respect; being prepared to listen to their views and arguments even if not agreeing with them; avoiding them hurt or injury, erring on the side of warmth and empathy, rather than hostility and aggression. I guess I could go on. That’s my starter for ten. I think you know the sort of territory I have in mind.
Isn’t it about time we reassessed these historic values and gave them more attention and regard? Isn’t it time we questioned the kind of shouty, aggressive, petty and nasty behaviour so beloved of soap interactions and remember how we like to be regarded; what we hope for, for those we love, for our children and grandchildren and, remember that truly what goes round comes round and that every act of unkindness will doubtless entail its balancing act of unkindness back against us, just like every kindness we give is likely to be valued and remembered?