As we walk through this wondrous, if baffling experience called life, we encounter rules, maxims, commandments, sutras and all manner of recommendations for our conduct as we go. No doubt many of these are instructive and valuable, the golden rule probably being perhaps the best example. Treating others the way we want to be treated is the best way to create good relationships with all beings. Patanjali made it first among his precepts for living when he enunciated ahimsa or non-harming in the Yoga Sutras. Even though the general idea of basic kindness is enshrined in religious doctrine across all traditions we still fail to master this most elementary of principles.
Recently I’ve heard rumblings from some quarters of certain political persuasions that kindness, love and goodness as a concepts for behavior in the sophisticated matters of political action are naïve and unrealistic. That strikes me as shockingly cynical and nihilistic. But this leads us to the age-old problem that may yet seem to have no satisfactory solution: the problem of goodness and its seeming impotence in the face of unremitting evil.
Perhaps these objections rise because concepts like love, kindness and goodness are often times just the hollow offerings of equally hollow traditions whose clean fingernails belie that fact they’ve never gotten down to the business of practicing the virtues they preach.
The problem with virtue, many people believe, is that there is no guarantee that its practice will result in equal treatment from others, that virtue is like a defenseless lamb before a world of wolves. But this assumes that the virtuous have the same intelligence quotient (IQ) as a lamb. Being virtuous doesn’t necessarily mean stupid, innocent or uninformed. Neither does the practice of kindness presume that others will react in kind. Kindness contains in itself a determined non-attachment to its results knowing that the law-of-averages is in its favor. The lineage of Jesus, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. demonstrates the power of a particular form of kindness that Gandhi called satyagraha, or soul force. Satyagraha is a Sanskrit word that means “insistence on truth.”
“Soul Force was originally used by M.K. Gandhi, as a part of “Satyagraha” or reliance on Soul Force. This was a philosophy brought about from the teachings of Jesus. Gandhi used Soul Force during the Indian people’s movement to transform their society through a peaceful means.”
Next, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., used Soul Force as part of his nonviolent philosophy as he sought to help lead the African American people toward freedom. He even mentioned this term in the “I Have A Dream” speech,
“We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”
Delivered on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963. Source: Martin Luther King, Jr: The Peaceful Warrior, Pocket Books, NY 1968
Insistence or the persistence of truth stands equal to kindness in its power as a change agent. Persistence erodes resistance like running water on a stone.
Another aspect of kindness that may not be readily apparent from its dictionary definition is curiosity. Kindness denotes open-heartedness. Open hearts quest for truth and intimate contact. Quest-ioning or curiosity lead to understanding which is followed by respect with the possibility of peace between serious parties.
Kindness, persistence and curiosity whether they are policies of governments or individuals provide the basic foundation of virtue by which humans can conduct their affairs. If you think that’s naïve, just look where subterfuge, deceit, greed and war have gotten us.