March 23, 2017
The Power of Kindness
A New Yorker cartoon, published February 5, 2007, is highly apropos for describing the 2016 Presidential campaign. The cartoon by Lee Lorenz features a car salesman making his pitch to a male customer. The salesman says, “This might appeal—it runs on vitriol.” (Photo licensed from the Condé Nast Collection) This year we have heard language so mean-spirited and criticizing, as part of a campaign “running on vitriol,” that I would never allow my child or grandchildren to speak in such a hurtful way. Many have grown weary of the racist, sexist, misogynist, and homophobic remarks, seeking a “kinder, gentler” approach. There is an alternative, more powerful way of living than one which creates division and fear by objectifying the other.
Piero Ferrucci’s The Power of Kindness: The Unexpected Benefits of Leading a Compassionate Life, is a welcome, refreshing approach to living – in stark contrast to the vitriolic approach. The timely tenth anniversary edition of this book was recently published, with a preface written by the Dalai Lama.
Piero Ferrucci is a psychotherapist and philosopher. He clearly explains, using both anecdotal evidence and scientific research, that kindness, as a basis for human interactions, benefits both the giver and the recipient. “Giving kindness does us as much good as receiving it. Perhaps more than any other factor, kindness gives meaning and value to our life, raises us above our troubles and our battles, and makes us feel good about ourselves.”
Piero explains: “However special it may sound, kindness is by no means exceptional. On the contrary, it comprises a great deal of human interactions. The fabric of our lives is made of care, solidarity, mutual service. These qualities are so embedded in our daily events that we may not even notice them.”
Piero argues that kindness as the basis for human relationships is the main way to help both present and future generations. For example, looking at our relationship with the planet, he says: “Kindness is urgent in our relationship with our living environment. If we do not respect and love nature, do not treat nature with loving kindness and the awe ‘she’ deserves, we will end up intoxicated by our own poisons.
“It is up to us. It is a choice for each of us – to take the way of selfishness and abuse, or the way of solidarity and kindness. In this exciting but dangerous moment of human history, kindness is not a luxury, it is a necessity. Being kind is taking a stand.”
Piero argues that kindness benefits both ourselves and others. He explains: “We are healthier when we are caring, empathic, and open to others. If we push our way forward, cultivate hostile thoughts, or bear lifelong grudges, we will not be at our best. And if we ignore or repress our positive qualities, we may harm ourselves as well as others. As psychiatrist Alberto Alberti maintains, love that is not expressed becomes hate; joy that is not enjoyed become depression.
“My thesis is that true kindness is a strong, genuine, warm way of being. Kindness itself may seem lightweight, and yet has a surprising power to transform us, perhaps more than any other attitude or technique.”
Piero writes that “true kindness is a strong, genuine, warm way of being. It is the result of the interplay among several qualities, such as warmth, trust, patience, loyalty, gratitude, and many others.” In fact, each chapter in the book is about the interplay between kindness and one of these qualities: honesty, harmlessness, forgiveness, contact, sense of belonging, mindfulness, empathy, humility, generosity, respect, flexibility, memory, service, and joy.
If you follow the “horse whisperer” method of training relationships with horses, most of these qualities – along with kindness, primarily – give the desired results and produce a content, well-adjusted, fine performing horse.
I highly recommend Ferrucci’s book. If you have already read the first edition, a re-visitation of the book in its tenth edition is well worth the time. If you have not read it before, it sets forth a remarkable blueprint for a way of living that can bring us all closest to completeness and boundless joy.
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