The Cost Of Kindness
Pink Floyd’s immortalised sample “I mean good manners don’t cost nuffink do they?” may be as inaccurate as it is grammatically incorrect!
We were on a narrow path. To my right, a stream of fast moving traffic. The little girl on her bike came towards me in a hesitant fashion, and as we approached the crossing point she looked at me nervously, a little unsure quite how she should play this one. I stopped, smiled, and tucked myself into the wall. With a smile and gentle flick of my head I motioned for her to pass. She looked down, embarrassed, went through the tiny gap, and was gone. She knew technically that she shouldn’t be riding on the pavement. I knew that too. But why should I care? Would I prefer that she was out on the road in the fast moving traffic? It was a very sweet exchange. I felt kind of sorry for her that she’d even had to worry about it.
Most of my therapy sessions last about 90 minutes. I don’t advertise that. My advertising says 60 minute sessions. I never ask for or accept extra payment. Sometime people offer it. Even if I know they’ve got more money than they’d ever need, I won’t accept it. It’s not that I don’t need it either, and it’s definitely not some “you’re now indebted to me” trip. I WANT to give a little more. I know that some people neither notice it, nor appreciate it. That matters for nothing to me. It’s a “write-off” in the business of extending kindness. The cost of that unappreciated kindness is a pittance in comparison to what’s shared with those with the capacity to receive.
I was in the supermarket recently and a lady went to pay for her shopping and her card was declined. A long story short, she quickly phoned her partner who immediately went online and paid some funds into her account, and she was able to get her shopping. It wasn’t a huge amount, maybe twenty pounds worth of stuff. I was watching this unfold and I had it in mind that if she couldn’t buy her shopping I would pay for it for her. I’d give her my number and she could repay me if she wished, but I’d already decided it didn’t matter if I never got it back. As it happened I didn’t need to step in. It’s funny though, I was a bit gutted that I didn’t get the opportunity to do that for her.
I’m no saint. I’m not as generous as I would be if I didn’t fear scarcity myself. I know there are many among us who would do all of this and much more. We are a nation of volunteers! I’m not looking for applause. I use these examples to illustrate that there is often a cost to you when you extend kindness, even if it’s as simple as not taking YOUR right of way or risking that you might be taken advantage of. And it’s true that some people WILL take advantage of your generosity. I’m under no illusions that everyone has a heart of gold.
The thing is though, the way I see it, with every act of kindness or generosity which we extend out into the World, we literally add to the value and potential of the human race’s future. Small kindnesses MUST ripple out into the World as surely as all cause and effect does. Karma you see is not some form of divine reward or punishment. It is literally cause and effect. If you abuse a person you can expect that somewhere down the line there will be a negative effect. They’ll end up bitter, and they’ll withdraw their kindness and/or do harm to others as a result. In this, the World becomes poorer. Conversely, when you share kindness, it tends to make most people want to do the same, and hey-presto the World works more smoothly!
Anything given with the expectation of reward is not kindness. If we have a fantasy that we’re somehow accruing Brownie points for good deeds, we’ll be in for a big disappointment. We do not carry around our virtues in a sack which we can cash in when we meet our maker. It’s far subtler than that. We accrue good karma because when we give to others we also give to ourselves. I mean that in two senses. “Ourselves” is here defined as humanity as a whole, and also individually, giving makes our hearts fuller and we shine a little more brightly. We are walking self-fulfilling prophecies. If we are angry inside, people are repelled. If we are soft inside people recognise there is no threat and are drawn to us. INDIRECTLY, we may reap the benefits of that because people who can offer us opportunities will notice our presence, but then again they might not. It is nice if our kindness is rewarded, but to my mind the purest reason to give is to make the world a better place.
The fate of our species hangs in the balance. Sorry to say that, but have you seen what’s going on out there? The World is mostly run by psychopaths (this is statistically accurate by the way). We are going to need every bit of goodwill available to bring this project to a successful conclusion. Humanity is adolescent. We have not yet matured. We will not always be what we are today. Our future will almost inevitably extend beyond this planet. Our opportunities may be truly cosmic in scale. In order to become what we are becoming however, we have to survive our adolescence, and there is the possibility that we will destroy ourselves. As has been said, “The fourth World war will be fought with sticks and stones”.
When we show kindness, we are metaphorically placing our penny on the invisible scales which exist inside that individual’s heart. We are voting for progress.
Every time someone shows you a kindness, it tips the scales in your own heart. You remember how good it felt to be treated nicely, and if you’re paying attention, you’ll want to pass the baton along to someone else. It may be that we cannot be kind unless someone has shown us kindness first. We are monkeys after all. One side of our nature makes us territorial, fearful of scarcity (greedy), and highly defensive, but we’re also capable of transcending those animal instincts because we have logic and reason available. Logic and reason alone tell us that pain and suffering is the result of division and hostility. Wellbeing, progress, and abundance are the results of kindness and co-operation. It really is very simple, and once we’ve tasted the results of kindness, it’s a no-brainer that we’d want the World our descendants will inhabit to be filled with the stuff. We can go about PROVING that humanity is a good guy by BEING the good guys!
Interestingly enough, there is a danger in giving. Eric Byrne’s fantastic Transactional Analysis system cautions us not to take up the role of “rescuer” in life. Rescuers need victims who need rescuing. By rescuing someone in need, a rescuer affirms their self-worth by demonstrating that they have use in the World. Using Byrne’s understanding though, this can become a dysfunctional position which can cause a rescuer to unwittingly enable a victim to remain a victim! In other words, if you keep bailing someone out because it makes you feel better about yourself, you’re really not helping that person to learn self-reliance. Complicated eh?
This seems to be primarily the reason that people withdraw their liberalism. The logic is “I’m not paying for someone who won’t pull their weight or help themselves”, and who can deny that fair is fair? Why should any of us work hard to support those who don’t or won’t contribute? Even in therapy I have little time for people who are wasting my energy even if I am being paid. In principle it’s completely understandable, and in principle, I support that position entirely. The problem is, in practice, it’s not unusual for ALL kindness to be withdrawn. Once that position has been rationalised and accepted as valid, it can become the default position and that is a terrible tragedy!
Kindness costs. Part of the cost of kindness is that a small proportion of those in receipt of that kindness won’t notice it, appreciate it, or value it. It will not fill their hearts with gratitude and they will continue on in life being as blinkered as ever and thinking that the World owes them something. They will spread their bitterness, and they will take much more than they give. But here’s the thing. It’s our loss, but it’s really theirs because they will know little joy in life. They will accrue lots of things to (try to) fill the void, but it will persist. The greatest satisfaction is really in smiling to the girl on the bike, paying a stranger’s grocery bill, giving a little more than you get paid for, and most importantly recognising that you just placed a penny on the good guy side of the scales of the future. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. The fight for a good World is one which will cost each of us personally, but the cost of NOT extending kindness to each other may well be a cost we cannot afford!
John Crawford – 3rd April 2017