Sunday marks the beginning of “random acts of kindness week.” With Valentine’s Day on the 14th, this is a good time to celebrate love and kindness. We do better when we make friends instead of enemies, love instead of war.
This soft message may seem absurd in a rude and obnoxious era. But science is on the side of love. Babies and mothers bond through skin-to-skin contact. Without affection, we wither and die. Cuddling reduces anxiety. Sex is good for the body. Making love can lower blood pressure and boost the immune system.
Friendship, kindness and love are central values in the world’s religious and philosophical traditions. Plato and Aristotle maintained that virtuous friendships are the root of a happy and ethical life. Nonsexual, platonic friendships are honest, kind and mutually beneficial. A good friend helps us become a better person.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said friendship gives us peace and joy. Kindness and love are “the sweetness of life.” Friendship invigorates and inspires. Love renews and enlarges. Emerson said to his friend, “all things through thee take nobler form.”
Love is the glowing heart of Christianity. Christian love is patient and kind. It is not boastful, selfish or envious. It is not easily angered or vengeful. Love protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres. Christians even declare that God is love. The basic command of Christian ethics is to love God and your neighbor as yourself.
Buddhist tradition teaches something similar. In the “Discourse on Loving Kindness,” the Buddha advises us to wish happiness to everyone. Don’t deceive or despise. Give up on hatred, anger and the wish to harm. Cherish all beings with the same tender affection a mother feels for her children. Cultivate boundless, radiant love.
No love in politics?
Given the deep and pervasive power of love and kindness, it is odd that our business and political leaders rarely speak of these things. Business and politics occupy a world of struggle. The motive forces here are fear, power and profit.
The political world emphasizes liberty and justice, defended with justified violence, authoritative commands and obedience to law. Love and kindness have no place in the world of military and police power. Mercy and forgiveness are not the concern of the criminal justice system. Nor are care and compassion at home in the world of economic calculation, competitive capitalism and the profit motive.
But there is more to life than the cold indifference of laws, armies and balance sheets. Morality and religion remind us to move beyond power to reveal kindness. Beyond justice give mercy. Beyond profit find pity. Beyond violence discover love.
There is enough malice, suffering and brutality in the world. Anger and outrage are contagious. So let’s not contribute to cruelty. Let’s not intensify hostility.
Reaping from kindness
The world’s ethical traditions teach us that rudeness rebounds and anger is echoed. Some speak of karma. The Bible tells us that we reap what we sow. But there is no metaphysical mystery here. The Grateful Dead sang, “if you plant ice, you’re gonna harvest wind.”
Kindness and love also echo and rebound. If you plant kindness, you harvest good will. To make a friend, be a friend. To find affection, give your heart away. The fruit of love is love.
It is true that soft and gentle natures are easily trampled. Anger and violence can destroy life and love in a moment of rage. We need fences and pest control. We also need to be wise in giving love and prudent in friendship.
Some jerks may take advantage of our good will. So what? The seeds of kindness are cheap enough and easy to plant again.
Some think that this cruel world requires us to grow a thick skin and a mineral hardness. But we are not rocks or trees. Hardheartedness leaves us lonely and forlorn. Stony indifference prevents growth and undermines happiness.
We have too many angry and brokenhearted people. Don’t blame them for their broken hearts. A broken heart is not cured by becoming calloused. It is not healed by pounding on it. It is restored when it becomes soft and learns to love again.
So offer a gentle word and a tender touch. And have faith that kindness is never wasted and love abides.