The year 2020 will be remembered world over for a long time to come. With COVID being the single common denominator for the collective memory, the number of social issues that surfaced in during this pandemic year, drawing attention of the masses, has created a diverse impact. For me, it will be the year I started to understand the true meaning of kindness.
We hear about kindness, almost every day. But what we have experienced is the highly synthesised and diluted version. Cosmetic in appearance, a version that makes you sigh in appreciation of random acts of another person and not something that moves you discomfortingly to alter your own privileged standing.
A good example to illustrate is the irony of our current times. As we reach newer limits of space to appease our curiosity about whether there is a possibility of life elsewhere, we have no regard for life on our own planet. We are blind sighted to the plight of the 100 thousands of refugees fleeing their home countries due to wars and we look at them as criminals when they enter our borders. We make no attempt to understand their suffering, let alone provide aid for them. Rather, we are caught up in justifying and validating our stance of calling them illegal immigrants.
Why are we like this?
Because, at the core we are still primitive in our needs. The need to belong and identify to a ‘tribe’, where banding together, the weakest of us has a better chance of survival. Additionally we are conditioned to be suspicious and hate anyone who is not ‘us’, making it our moral obligation to rid the earth of these ‘others’. Hence our technological advancements till recently were tools for one ‘tribe’ to overthrow another ‘tribe’ in all brutality. The adrenalin rush of this warfare is coded into insignias of pride and honour, fuelling the vicious cycle of vengeance. We are made to believe that we owe our life to our ‘tribe’ and it demands our unquestioned obedience and loyalty towards it.
While we have been believing that our ability to make tools and communicate is what distinguishes us from other species and what has led to the establishment of our civilisations, anthropologist Margret Mead corrects us. She tells us, the earliest sign of civilisation was not any tool, but the finding of a healed thigh bone. She explains that in the natural world, a wounded animal is an easy prey and stands no chance to survive on its own. The fact that another would care for this wounded creature and nurse it back to full recovery is the first sign of civilisation – a behavioural mutation towards empathy!
Thus, we are shaped not only by the blood stained history of ever changing borders and unsettled debates of who actually belongs within them, but we are also touched by the influence of men who have questioned this former way of living and showed us the possibility of a kinder life. These very few form our work-in-progress bridge towards humanity.
In the era of the Second World War whose gut wrenching violence ranged from a systematic setup of the holocaust to the simplistic whimsical pushing of a button activating an atomic bomb, India was a nation negotiating its freedom through a completely disruptive means of non-violence. The partition of the country was a reminder of the tight grip of the old world order. In spite of it, what India achieved was indeed an extraordinary feat. The Indian model of the freedom struggle is a modern revolution template, for humanitarians as well as the politically willed. It has formed the basis for all current voices that are being raised for social change.
It is important to first realise that kindness is not a natural instinct. What we all think and call as kindness, is really a survival skill, a social security blanket that has a very small radius of influence. It’s what helps us band together with whichever ‘tribe’ we identify with.
Kindness is a deliberated emotion. In its discovery, it is hurtful to you as you need to scrape out all the conditioned bias. It questions your own moral identity. You need to unburden yourself from the ornate and aesthetically sensuous culture that victimises and shames other living sects. In its portal to the future, kindness only allows you to take the lessons from the past and not the vengeance to validate your violence. The first few steps are the steepest, because your ‘tribe’ holds you back by force and then the ones you love the most brand you as a traitor and a hypocrite.
But how could the phoenix rise if it is not first consumed by fire?
Kindness comes from a place of not just wisdom, but of very high intelligence. It’s a new way of generating energy, where a spark can be created without striking 2 stones, something that is not easily comprehendible. Kindness is about respecting all living organisms and not burrowing the earth to strip her away from all her resources. It has a great economic model too, one of sustenance and mutual co-dependence that puts equality and empathy at the forefront. Kindness is about self-worth that will no longer just accept crumbs and compromise on the value of its equity. Kindness is about bravery, that does not settle for mere survival, but wants to live and thrive!
In 2020, it’s this power of kindness that I have come to recognise but also my own inadequacy of it.
A kindness which is in the fortitude of the many who have been victimised by the existing social system and authority world over, but are no longer submitting to it without putting up a fight. Be it women demanding for gender equality, the queer community seeking acceptance, the citizens of Hong Kong looking into the eye of China’s authoritarianism, the unacceptable death of George Floyd creating a global movement for dignity of black lives, the young students in India and the women of Shaheen Bagh becoming the beautiful evocative voice of dissent against the CAA and NRC laws, to the brutal rape, murder and state corruption in the Hatras case bringing light to the larger context of Dalit lives, to the most recent ongoing farmers protest in India. They are the ones who have been continuously robbed, but no more.
I also found kindness in the compassion of the privileged ones and some sitting in places of authority who add strength to positive social changes. Be it men who are talking about solutions around #MeToo, families and organisations making it a safe place for the queer, the sea of volunteers and small organisations who jumped into action when state institutions failed, to support, in whatever capacity, the life of the marginalised affected by the lock-down and the devastating floods of monsoon, governments like Kerala and New Zealand responding to COVID with rational planning and most importantly empathy, the maverick speed of developing vacancies world over to curb the ongoing pandemic not only to citizens of their country but also taking into account people in countries that purely depend on aid, the many racially white citizens raising their fists for black lives to the emerging voices of privileged Hindus in support of the Muslims and Dalits. Nowhere before in time was there so much show of empathy and finding solutions together towards the suffering of another.
Heartening of all is the kindness in a whole new generation of girls and boys who are working towards finding sustainable and new solutions to larger world issues. They speak via their actions and not on some romanticised intentions. From tackling climate change to bullies, the likes of Greta Thunberg and Gitanjali Rao who are in their teens are taking the system head on with pure logic. Theirs is the fiercest form of kindness, the one which speaks truth to power and stupidity!
If as a species we need to survive, then kindness is our only option. As more and more of the coming generation is born with an instinctive kindness, we need to help others by conditioning it into them. Hence, it’s important that we institutionalise kindness; the responsibility of being kind needs to be shifted from the individual to the state. No more of the moral stories that you need to help a blind person cross the road, instead build infrastructure where the blind can cross the road by themselves. That day is not some utopian dream. That day is our only chance for survival!
Kindness is our only chance for survival!