Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mental Notes: On kindness

The Washington Post comes out with a review on a new book simply titled "On Kindness". I haven't read the book, but judging from the review, it speaks a lot about the human psyche and the balancing act between kindness and aggression.

Some interesting excerpts from the article by Michael Dirda on Adam Phillips and Barbara Taylor's book :

"Most people, as they grow up now, secretly believe that kindness is a virtue of losers." But Phillips and Taylor show that kindness -- "the ability to bear the vulnerability of others, and therefore of oneself" -- is essential to our humanity. "Indeed it would be realistic to say that what we have in common is our vulnerability; it is the medium of contact between us, what we most fundamentally recognize in each other." What kindness does is "open us up to the world (and worlds) of other people in ways that we both long for and dread." I'll come back to that "dread."

Following Winnicott, the authors then emphasize that genuine kindness must somehow accommodate hostility. "The thing that works, Winnicott says -- the thing that makes relations between parents and children 'feel real,' in his phrase -- is the hatred that is lived through without severing the relationship." In fact, "real kindness, real fellow feeling, entails hating and being hated -- that is, really feeling available frustrations -- and through this, coming to a more realistic relationship. This, one might say, is a more robust version of kindness, a kindness made possible through frustration and hatred rather than a kindness organized to repudiate (or to disown) such feelings. Kindness of this variety allows for ambivalence and conflict, while false, or magical, kindness distorts our perceptions of other people, often by sentimentalizing them, to avoid conflict. Sentimentality is cruelty by other means." We must value people for what they are, not for what we want them to be.

Read the full article here.