May: Kindness

What was the single greatest act of kindness ever shown to you?

Heston Blumenthal (the renowned molecular gastronomist who conjures tasty dishes such as snail porridge and bacon and egg ice cream) says loyalty.

“You can’t buy it, you can’t guarantee it — you can only earn it and even then it is still a blessing.”

Blumenthal’s comment comes in April, the same month I read about how “kind” behaviour is apparently linked to receptor genes for two hormones. It’s also the month I flee to the Mornington Peninsula stressed out from overwork, rushing in and out of airports and navigating unknown roads in the dark.

We arrive late but the owner of the lovely little bluestone cottage showers us with the warmest words of welcome. She’s arranged the best local produce on the table and written a blackboard message wishing us a happy stay and me a wonderful (big!) birthday.

A birthday card is propped neatly on the bedspread wishing me more of the same.

Each day, while we’re out exploring the rugged coastline and breathing deeply to recover from city life and its steely grip, this woman pens us a pretty post-it note with words of encouragement and tips for the best places to visit.

Her daughter, a restaurateur, greets us like old friends with complimentary champagne and tells us, “Mum said I should spoil you because it’s a special occasion.”

Sure, we were paying customers but we felt valued. Their kindness showed me these people cared.

It’s easy to forget the power of kindness and the biblical precedent for its importance. (It’s a fruit of the Spirit as you know.)

It’s easy to forget that many of us have scars and wounds and fragilities — and that a kind word or thoughtful act can help minister to these more effectively than ambivalence, neutrality or harshness.

With this in mind, I’ve been working on my capacity for kindness — trying to give it out more than I’m drinking it in — trying to remember that kindness (a noun) functions best as a verb.

I’m failing more than succeeding as those closest to me will attest. Nonetheless, I believe, along with Stephanie Dowrick, that you learn a kinder way of life by living it.

In her new book Everyday Kindness (Allen & Unwin, $27.99) Dowrick claims that practising kindness will transform us. “I’m willing to say that we would live in a different world entirely if each of us truly refined our talents for kindness: if we took it as a privilege as well as a responsibility to create a kinder, safer, friendlier and far more appreciative world. It would also be a more peaceful world.”

The novelist Henry James similarly believed three things in life were important: “The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.”

Why not test these writers’ theories? Fill your glass. Share the milk of human kindness. Watch the glass refill again and again. Start today.

Marjorie Lewis-Jones

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