Being Kind

25 02 2023

The artist Charlie Mackesy never expected his work to become a sensation beloved by millions. His quiet, thoughtful drawings and sparely beautiful words express feelings we instinctively understand as coming from the heart.

Driving through the Devon lanes listening to a radio interview with Charlie Mackesy, reporting the Oscar nomination of the animated film of his work, I heard the artist express his surprise and excitement at the prospect of getting on a plane for the first time in 20 years. He had not travelled because he did not want to leave his dog who suffered from separation anxiety. His simple solution was to stay home.

In that decision lies the absolute essence of kindness. To gladly choose to put another’s needs before our own without a trace of resentment is to share what is best in our humanity. To be kind can almost be seen as radical act when there are so many temptations in the opposite direction. It’s difficult to be kind when you believe you deserve more. Or when you believe your needs take priority. We all get caught up in ourselves without realising how blind we become when we shut down on others.

As Charlie Mackesy illustrates in his delicate drawings, kindness is a form of clear seeing. When we approach others with kindness, we show them what is possible. We show them there is freedom from cynicism, from suspicion and viewing others as fuel. Kindness creates a momentum all of its own.

Given enough space and air and time to breathe, kindness is all around us. It’s in a single look between strangers who have passed each other on the street for years without acknowledgement. It’s in the person who takes the time to walk over to your car with the ticket which still has hours until expiry. It’s in the person who makes sure your shopping doesn’t fall over while she packs it carefully for you. It’s in the feeling of release on a warm day on the beach watching two guide dogs freed from their harnesses to roll in the sand and chase each other through the surf. It’s in the young mother watching her daughters dance and laugh until they cry tears of joy. It’s in the slim moon on a cold night elbowed by two bright stars. It’s in the trees as they soften at dusk. It’s everywhere.

As Viktor Frankl observed during his years in Auschwitz, being kind gave life its meaning. It literally made the difference between living and dying. Being kind in captivity gave those who were incarcerated in the cruelest prison, a sense of freedom. I heard this powerful message echoed in the voice of the Ukrainian railway man who reported that the railways were taking bodies of fallen Russian soldiers to be buried in their homeland. They did this not to honour the enemy who had taken away their peace and freedom, but to honour their own decency.

Kindness teaches us about honour. Reading scientific studies of happiness, gratitude is a consistent key to opening our lives to more fulfilment. Taking time to appreciate, we create circles of reciprocity that enlarge all our lives. Remapping the world in ways that feel more human and less alienating, each act of kindness is a breath, a leap in the dark, a stance we take fully into our hearts. With kindness by our side we are strong and bold. We honour our own humanity.

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