Sunday, July 17, 2016


Dalai Lama With Group of Tibetan Muslims
Photo Courtesy of Voice of America

As the world becomes increasingly divided, with passionate demands in many quarters for more walls and fewer bridges, more weapons and fewer conversations, more national isolation and less international cooperation, may I humbly suggest that what we need most in the world at this time is more kindness, followed by more gratitude for the kindnesses we have received?

This should not be as difficult as we make it.  We have all been taught since childhood to be kind.  Remember all of that stuff about welcoming the stranger, loving your neighbor as yourself, doing unto others as we would have them do unto ourselves?  When did we we stop taking this ancient wisdom seriously?  Perhaps we need to remember the great lesson that William James learned after a lifetime of work in psychology and philosophy:  "Three things are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind."

I greatly admire both the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, surely among the most respected people in the world.  If you listen carefully to what they are saying, it all comes down to human kindness.  The Dalai Lama states forthrightly: "My religion is simple — it's kindness."  In the same spirit, Bishop Tutu goes further and reminds us that kindness may be the greatest power we possess to create a better, more inclusive, more compassionate world.  "Do your little bit of good where you are," he says, "it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world."

It's tempting to suggest that kindness is a fine sentiment, but without any practical value in today's competitive, dog-eat-dog world.  In truth, however, kindness may be the only thing that saves us from this fearsome world.  Waiting and hoping for circumstances to improve on their own is not a viable option.  As Emerson cautioned many decades ago, one "cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late."

If I'm feeling a sense of urgency about the importance of kindness, it's because of my recent reading of Naomi Shahib Nye's fine poem on the subject.  Nye recognizes that the incalculable value of kindness is seldom fully appreciated until one has lived long enough to suffer losses, long enough to know deep sorrow, and long enough to encounter the inescapable reality of death.  "Then," she writes, "it is only kindness that makes sense anymore . . ."

                                                                         by Naomi Shihab Nye

                           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 mail letters and purchase 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.

From Words Under The Words, Selected Poems, by Naomi Shihab Nye
The Eighth Mountain Press, A Far Corner Book, Portland, Oregon (1995)

Peace To Everyone


  1. Beautiful poem, and your beautiful words. All so true.
    It took me 60+ years to see, and appreciate life.
    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Laura. Glad you like this wonderful poem by Naomi Shihab Nye. Sixty years to see and appreciate life is not so bad — many never get there — and it's wonderful that you are now using your camera and eye to bring attention to the world's beauty.

  2. A beautiful sentiment beautifully expressed, George. And what a fine poem!

    'Kindness may be the only thing that saves us from this fearsome world.'

    1. Thanks so much, Robert, and I do love this poem — love it more and more with each reading, for it takes on the form of a meditation. Nice, another three murders of policemen yesterday in Louisiana, a thoughtless, vindictive, "eye for an eye" presidential candidate — when will we come to our senses and stop this insanity? We need more imagination, the kind that John Lennon wrote about, and maybe kindness can be a gateway into that kind of imagination.

  3. What a beautiful poem!

    A few days ago, stuck in a traffic jam on the motorway in Bavaria, my daughter selected the Invisibilia podcast from 15 July (Flip the Script) for us to listen to:
    From the blurb on the website:

    "In this episode we look at situation where someone flips the script – does the opposite of what their natural instinct is, and in this way transforms a situation. Usually when someone is hostile to us, we are hostile right back. The psychological term is "complementarity." But then in rare cases someone manages to be warm, and what happens as a result can be surprising. The episode starts with a story about a dinner party in DC, when an attempted robbery was foiled by... a glass of wine and some cheese. Then we travel across the pond, to Denmark, where police officers are attempting to combat the growing problem of Islamic radicalization with... love."

    It was a beautiful reminder.

  4. Thanks so much, Sabine, for sharing your information on the "flip the script" approach to dealing with situations in which we are threatened or uncomfortable. I think that's exactly what we are talking about here — doubling down on kindness, rather than hatred and revenge, when the world appears to be spinning out of control. As someone once remarked, pursuing an "eye for an eye" approach eventually results in a world in which everyone is blind.

  5. I've always been impressed by the DL's statements on kindness. I was thinking only today how acts of kindness on the "micro" level might add up and perhaps even have the potential to transform politics.

    1. I couldn't agree more, Dominic. It's essentially "the butterfly effect." Perform a small act of kindness in one's own small community and it tends to magically reverberate throughout the world. Much like the "pass it on" movement. Just a few days ago, some stranger in front of me at a drive-through Starbucks paid for my beverage. As result, I was moved to pay for the beverage of the person behind me. These are small things, of course, but it's the spirit that's important. Mutual kindness may be the only thing that has a chance of turning back the rising tide of hatred throughout the world.

    2. The social butterfly effect is a good image.

      There is a downside, though. Politicians are already getting wiser to the no-cost social "micro-policy" that endears people to them while they quietly get on with their shadier policies. Our local MP has just publicised his initiative to better signpost the Coast to Coast path - after quietly voting to allow fracking under the North Yorkshire Moors!

    3. I agree with your insight, Dominic, and I am quite disturbed by the actions of your local MP. Fracking under the North Yorkshire Moors? I can't imagine that this would be allowed, but then I could have never imagined that Trump would become the Republican nominee for president in the U.S. Strange times that we live in.

  6. When you mentioned Naomi in conjunction with the Stafford posting this poem came to mind ....It's such a good poem ... and a beautiful reminder of the importance and power of kindness.

    1. Yes, I was reading some of Nye's poetry the week before last when gun violence seemed to be the only thing mentioned in the daily news. As I reread Nye's "Kindness" poem, it just seemed so obvious that kindness is the only solution, the only path to anything that resembles peace. As Nye recognizes, kindness becomes an urgent matter once a person has encountered loss and borne his or her share of sorrow in this world.