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Things I have learned in 2022 VI

I listened to a somewhat annoying episode of the Moral Maze, one of my favourite podcasts. One of the witnesses was Edith Hall, who's written about virtue ethics.


She takes exception to the term kindness because she says the concept is rooted in the Greek tradition of magnanimity (powerful people being gracious to powerless people) and gentility (same sort of thing) and so she prefers civility - as that comes from the French Revolution and is about equals being respectful of the dignity of each other. She said this matters on a show called the moral maze. I think it might matter on a show called the etymological maze. Or it would if she were right.



So the word traditionally had a meaning related to those one feels a connection to and then morphed into some kind of perhaps hierarchical benevolence - but has morphed again into a concept that suggests generosity and gentleness.


The morphing doesn't stop there - for me, the word now carries much of the sense of the Pali word 'metta' - which is translated as loving kindness and means a sense of good will and compassion to all.


It is an attitude of caring about the well-being of others. It is generous, understanding and curious. It does not excuse wrong-doing but differentiates between the actor and the act. It acknowledges weakness and contingency. It accepts that people have different perspectives while retaining a sense of the best outcome as being the least harmful - to all beings. It is ethical while retaining universal benevolence.


It is a guiding star.


The panelists debated how kindness might conflict with truth or you might have to be cruel to be kind. All such nonsense. Kindness does not have to be about white lies or sugar coating - kindness is the attitude of caring for the other more than one cares about feeling awkward. We may differ in the best way to tell a child that someone has died, we may feel it is kinder to talk about heaven or a better place, we may feel the truth is kinder. In the end, though, what is critical is less what is said but how that growing, intelligent, unique being is held and supported and guided through the crisis.


What matters most is knowing that one matters as oneself, for oneself and whatever happens.


That is kindness.


*The photo is a dove, rescued in an act of kindness.

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