Embrace the Altruistic Selfish Virtue

Sounds like an impractical contradiction in terms! What could this be? The quality of kindness. Why? Because the primary beneficiary of acts of kindness is the person dishing out such acts.

A study conducted by the University of British Columbia confirmed that acts of kindness lifted the moods of the giver and reduced anxiety levels. Kindness is known to generate increased levels of happy and love hormones. With these facts in mind, you would think kindness would be as ubiquitous as the air we breathe. In this world that is saturated with incessant turmoil, horrendous pressures and unprecedented tribulations, we all need to invest in this quality in a deliberately purposeful manner.

True, people often offend us. Why do we need to be kind to these individuals? A Jewish philosopher named Philo of Alexandria gives this insight, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” This calls on all of us to work on the quality of kindness even if we are not that naturally inclined. The enormity of our souls is unfathomable. If we wish, we can create within ourselves intrinsic multiple hovels of kindness and make room for others despite their flaws. Our capacity to be kind and compassionate can only be constrained by heavy self-imposed strictures that would suffocate our capacity to think straight and impede our ability to widen our hearts. Of all avenues that we can exploit to restore the waning faith in humanity, kindness will always be second to none.

A close friend might betray us, a spouse might vex us, and a colleague might provoke us.

If we are not careful, we can allow these fleeting events to sap every skerrick of compassion from our kindness glands. Would we choose to go wild, effectively transferring the power to control our emotions to a person who is clearly hurting? Is there wisdom in driving the virtue of kindness to the deepest and perhaps unreachable part of our hippocampus? Shouldn’t we rather dig through our own head and use healing words that would shock offenders and lift them from a zone of negativity to an elevated plane of positivity?

We may be crawling, walking or running, but the fact is, each one of us is keeping to their meandering lane and maintaining a unique pace in their life’s journey. Some people are going through a lot. They might have lost their loved ones in death, or taking care of terminally ill family members, or might have been unfairly fired by cruel bosses, or they may be rushing off to see a loved one who is about to take their last breath. Such people may behave in a strange manner. They may thwack us with expletives or cut in front of us in traffic. Since we can’t decode what goes on in their minds, we cannot claim we know what accounts for their unkindness. Neither can we be sure that they are all out to offend us. Can we go beyond taking ourselves too seriously and opt to extend kindness to seemingly underserving humans? Can we choose to process their unacceptable acts of commission with a touch of compassion?

Do we know someone who is going through a rough patch? Perhaps this person has always been bubbly, making time to connect with us through social media platforms, but for some inexplicable reason, he is now marooned in hibernation.

A simple act of kindness like a call or text message to say ‘Hello, I’ve been thinking about you,’ may be all that is necessary to reach out to a friend enduring unusual social hiatus and help in filling their need and restoring their dignity. Do we know someone who has lost their job? If they had worked for many years, providing for their family with ease, they may be contending with awkward feelings of inadequacy and perhaps battling with emotional scars of low self-esteem. Their awareness of the fact that employed people sometimes struggle with financial challenges might dissuade them from asking for monetary help. They will smile when they see us, and we might even sense that smile when we talk to them on the phone, but let’s not be fooled, that smile could be masking a deep wound filled with a viscid pus of anxiety, negative emotions, depression, agony, and a sense of shame and failure. We need to breathe genuine compassion into our words. Our friends are unlikely to open up to us unless they discern that sincere ‘I care spirit.’

If we can, let’s dig into our pocket, and dignify them with a little something, surprise them with groceries, delivery of pizza or whatever stuff we know they can no longer afford. By so doing, we would be practically assuring them; ‘I know you’re struggling, but you’re not alone.’ People on their beam-ends would deeply appreciate whatever little help could come their way. The quickest way to lose friends is to lose a job. Guileful friends often befriend our position and material assets. For good reason, one hallowed book cautions, “Wealth attracts many friends, but the poor man will be deserted even by his friend.” Be that ‘altruistic selfish friend’ who lovingly sticks to a companion already languishing in the dust.

What about performance at work? If our subordinates fail to hit key performance targets, are we, like the American football coach named Vincent Thomas Lombardi, going to threaten them by saying, “If you aren’t fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm?” Without necessarily being so gullible as to promote mediocracy, shouldn’t empathy and courageous leadership impel us to engage them as humans first and employees second? Shouldn’t we demonstrate that we care, and without straying into the nosy lane, find out if something in their private life accounts for such sub-optimal performance and offer a credible support structure that speaks to their needs, one that would nimbly help them find their feet back on the optimal performance curve? For text and email messages, why not purposefully engage our kindness gear prior to hitting that send button. In so doing, we might snap out of the vengeance mode and whip up rephrased sentences, while preserving the import of our communication.

What about social media? When we are victims of irrational and vituperative stream of social media rants, through vengeance-loaded responses, we might consider people as inanimate and robotic digital objects, as if they are devoid of feelings and emotions. But behind the welter of such rants is sensitive flesh and blood, real lives capable of loving and being loved, and equally capable of hurting others and being hurt. Whenever we read their rants, we have two choices. One; in a desperate attempt to impress others with a flatulence of jaw-droppingly atrocious barbs, we may allow impulsive aggression and bitterness to well within us, forcing us to insanely stoop to the level of the antagonistic prats. Like Philo of Alexandria rightly said, “We are insatiable in our love for notice.” Two, a sobering dose of reasonableness may prompt us to occupy the moral high ground and allow our sense of maturity to take control of our emotions recognising that there is much more to life than winning unimportant online arguments. By the way, someone who hurts us is not transformed into a lesser being and the fact that we are hurting does not elevate us into a higher form of life. We are all imperfect humans and therefore error-prone. And we will all continue making mistakes until we pop our clogs. Hence the need to extend kindness to others through forgiveness.

Kindness will help us in disabusing ourselves of the notion of being too opinionated and in resisting the inclination to quickly pass baseless value judgements. In a heated meeting, how wise it would be for us to think before we leap! We must have the wisdom and maturity to listen to a divergent view even if it is remotely connected to what we perceive to be reasonable. People have the right to disagree with us. Kindness will drive us to acknowledge their point of view and compel us to seek ways of accommodating their stance by pursuing a common ground. We should not speak with our ears. We should use them to listen to what is being said, humbly push aside our egos, and allow our brain to objectively process such views before we respond.

An alternative view can accentuate the spirit of compassion and kindness. If it was only my opinion that mattered, I would probably be the sole self-sufficient and self-renewing inhabitant of planet earth.

My Creator would not have had reason to create other humans. The world was never meant to start and end with me. If for no other reason, acknowledgement of this irrefragable fact should drive me to get out of my own head and fully embrace the ‘altruistic selfish virtue’ of kindness and revel in the happiness associated with it.

Editor's Comment
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