Every night my parents pray that I and my brother might fall in love with someone kind. Not good looking, not rich, not ambitious, not overly spiritual or particularly intelligent, but kind. Their own experiences give rise to the hope that their children might be cared for in ways more long-lasting than the material. Any or all of these other traits are a bonus. Or would be a bonus were it not for the fact that they can spoil a person: beauty creates a beast, riches become blind to rags, ambition stand astride compassion like a colossus, revered by society and far above others’ petty concerns.
Are there good-looking people with money and aspirations who are also kind? Is it possible to remain wealthy or to have your ambitions realised without being a little ruthless, a little unconcerned with the situation of others? It is possible to be a spiritual person and not be kind, hundreds of years of religious burnings and sacrifice and judgement and exclusion have proven that. And perhaps it is the intelligent person who realises kindness is not the way to power and greatness. The kind person is the one who will not be as successful in the world’s eyes as they could be.
It is possible to show kindness without being kind. A broken bag’s contents rescued for a stranger or a marathon run for charity are acts of kindness, wildly different in scope and impact. But unless these are undertaken within the context of a life with many kind acts – both large and small – and a character that performs them with the same ease and motivation as breathing, they are merely a reflection of others’ kindness. That is not to say that showing self-conscious kindness is a bad thing, but that it can be a social construction. Acts of generosity or deference or etiquette are a way of exercising kind behaviour for your own sense of beneficence or even a greater social good. The western understanding of karma emphasises this: do good and good will be done unto you.
When a successful pop star lends their celebrity to a charity event, their ‘kindness’ may appear self-serving. When they provide free tickets for children and families who would not otherwise be able to afford it, their kindness seems more genuine. When they habitually use their celebrity status, with no fiscal incentive, to help individuals or organisations in their good work they may be seen as kind people. And yet, without knowing their behaviours behind the scenes, without being able to see the nature of their relationships with others, it is not possible to know how kind they really are. Same goes for us civilians without the profile of the famous.
The journey into and out of Central London each day provides so many opportunities to see kindness in action – both natural and self-conscious. I’m inclined to think more of the former, since people on a commute have no long-term need to demonstrate their kindness to others. Alternatively it may be easier to convince strangers of a different you than people who know you well. So perhaps the girl offering her seat to the pregnant lady is doing so precisely because it is a demonstrable kindness. It may also be a knee-jerk reaction borne of her kind nature.
I sit and I look for the tiny acts of kindness, whose being is as effortless as breathing. I look for someone kind.