What I Think of When I Think of Kindness

 

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I have been thinking a lot about kindness lately, and I have begun to doubt our sincerity around what we say about being kind. We don’t have any celebrations focused on kindness, the way we celebrate love, romance, heroic deeds, bravery, beauty, wealth, and physical strength. Even when we venerate saints and prophets who are exemplars of kindness- like Jesus, Guru Nanak, Dalai Lama or Ma Anadamayi – we put them on a pedestal and distance their qualities from their and our humanity.

We say we want to be treated with kindness. We seem hurt by meanness. And yet, mostly when we are face to face with selfless, random kindness we don’t accept it at face value. We look for hidden agendas; we doubt. We calculate and measure how much of kindness we may dispense to whom, why and when. We weigh it by the results it might get us, rather than be kind because we feel kind. But what if we played this differently? I was reminded of one such different encounter when a Facebook friend posted pictures of her visit to the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles some days ago. Years ago, I too had visited this area on the slopes of iconic Mount Hollywood, with my son. What had made the outing particularly memorable and special was our taxi driver for the day, and his quality of kindness.

We say we want to be treated with kindness. We seem hurt by meanness. And yet, mostly when we are face to face with selfless, random kindness we don’t accept it at face value.

The cabbie was a sociology graduate from Berkeley, and was driving a cab to pay for his second degree, this time from film school. He shared with us stories of some of his favorite films and plays, and then told us about the script he was working on. By the time he drove us to the Observatory, I knew his life story, and he knew some of ours. His ancestors had been brought to America as slaves and he had grown up poor and abused. He was fifty-two when we met, but he looked thirty something. He was very careful with his health, he said, because he had only himself to care for himself. He ate with care, he meditated, and he spoke with care, he told us. He hoped to marry and have at least one child soon, but if that didn’t happen, he was okay with that too. He was not a science student, but he could hold his own in discussions on astrophysics with my son.

At the observatory, specially because of my son’s passion for astrophysics, he asked us if we wanted more time at this place – more time than we had fixed with him when we hired him to drive us around. We said we would have liked it, but our taxi budget was really already stretched to the limit. We could not afford to pay for waiting time. So a short visit would have to do.

“No, you don’t worry about that. You stay longer. Take your time. I will find a spot of free parking and wait. No extra charge.”

Our cabbie was going to have a siesta in the extra time we took to look around. Since he loved his siesta, he saw no reason to charge us extra. We could stick to our budget and have extra time out. He could keep to a personal routine he enjoyed.

My own experience, again and again, is that in so many places, in so many avatars across the world, people are kind to each other for no apparent reason.

We returned to the cab after a lovely afternoon of explorations and discoveries and shared our photographs with the cabbie. He offered to take a few more at the location we were parked at, with the Hollywood sign in the background. Then we drove off back to LA as the silver sky spangled with advertising balloons turned rose pink above us, and the ocean turned a darker shade of navy blue on the far horizon. Stuck in traffic in LA’s evening rush hour as the cab crawled into the city, our driver wanted to know if we had plans for dinner. He said he was asking because we were passing very close to his neighborhood, and it was dinner time, and if we stopped somewhere for dinner now, he too could make a quick trip home, have his home-made dinner and get back to us to drop us home. Of course he would not charge us for the few extra kms or time this might involve. We did not argue with his logic.

Can we also own up to kindness as easily, as something that is an integral, authentic part of us?

When I share this story, it strikes people as unusual. But my own experience, again and again, is that in so many places, in so many avatars across the world, people are kind to each other for no apparent reason. And yet, we treat kindness as a fluke, and accept meanness, hatred, violence, greed, dishonesty as givens, and look out for them and guard against them.

Can we also own up to kindness as easily, as something that is an integral, authentic part of us? Could we do this not to get kindness in return, or because it will make us popular or well liked, but because for the world to be a kinder place, kindness has to begin with us first.

I do believe it was our cabbie’s choice to be always kind to his own self, to rest when he needed to rest, and to eat when he needed to eat, which also made him pass on kindness to us. All real kindness is an inside job, a gift to our self. When we are full, it spills over and spreads in the world.

(This piece was first published in https://www.shethepeople.tv/tag/outloud-with-kiranjeet)

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