Another great collection on Radio 4’s start the week programme. Listen again to it here.
There was this fascinating discussion about KINDNESS, relating to this new book, co written by a psycho analyst Adam Philips and Historian Barbara Taylor.
They appear to take the view that our society has retreated from kindness as a way of interacting and engaging with the people around us. We assume that we are no longer inter-dependent and needful of others, and so kindness becomes identified with a kind of weakness and vulnerability.
They go as far as to suggest that we tend naturally towards kindness, but learn to suppress this as we grow into our culture. All Kindness, suggests Philips, is a RISK- but a risk that is transformative in the taking.
There is a review of this book in Guardian by Mary Warnock where she says this
Kindness to others arises out of sympathy. As the authors note, there is much evidence that other animals besides human beings (or “men” as they properly designate them) can enter into the sufferings and fears of others of their kind. But it is human animals alone who, because of their imaginative powers, can enter into the feelings of other people far removed from them, whom they cannot see or touch, but whose plight as fellow-humans they can share
In the Gospel of St Luke, a lawyer is told by Jesus that to live well he must love his neighbour as himself and, when he further asks who is to count as his neighbour, Jesus answers with the story of the good Samaritan, for many the very essence of Christianity. Kindness here arose spontaneously, not in obedience to any rule, in fact in defiance of convention. But as Christianity became increasingly ecclesiastical and hierarchical, with the consequent corruption of the priesthood, the good Samaritan was forgotten.
The new Protestantism declared man to be fundamentally sinful, such good actions as he could do dependent on the grace of God; and so the possibility of natural kindness disappeared.
So we come back to Jesus, and his call to live for a radically different agenda, according to the rules of a New Kingdom. And one of the watch-words of this new kingdom- is kindness.
It is one of those fruit listed by Paul as evidence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. (See here for some more ponderings on this.)
When we come into contact with kindness at a point of real need, we rarely forget it. It lives on in our souls. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians- all sorts of other loud and visible manifestations of faith will clang like gongs and then fall silent- but love will last for ever.
Which makes me think again about the myth of the super-Christian. I am interested in the stature aquired and the adoration we give to some of our leaders- perhaps for their charisma, their vision or their oratory power. When one of these paragons of Christianity falls from Grace, how dreadful it seems… how shocking.
Might this be because we measure spirituality according to a strange criteria? We equate knowledge with understanding, declaration with practice and power with ordination from on high.
Might we best return to a simple measure- of kindness shown, and a skew towards grace in all things. These are the leaders I look for. Jesus has ruined the others for me!