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Kindness is not a new concept. Philosopher Aristotle said: “It is the characteristic of the magnanimous man to ask no favour but to be ready to do kindness to others.” “Kindness was man’s ‘greatest delight”, the Roman philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius declared. Yet, kindness is given very little credence these days. Often, it is dismissed as a sentimental notion in a culture where the self-reliant, the ‘survivors’, are lauded. Success, wealth and celebrity often come at the expense of others. Kindness can sometimes be paralleled with weakness.
When I have the privilege of visiting All We Can’s work around the world it is often the stories of kindness that are the most poignant, brave and outstanding acts I encounter. I am also able to witness kindness in action in a way that shakes my perception of what it means to be ‘rich’ or ‘poor’. Whether being generously served honey and bread in Ethiopia by a woman who has faced famine for weeks, or whether it is hearing tales of extraordinary grace in the midst of conflict from a Syrian refugee, kindness is common in my work. Kindness is common yet also bold, brave and life-changing. I am reminded daily in my work of how those who are materially poor are often the first to so richly serve others in kindness and love.
One of the most humbling acts of kindness described to me in recent months was by a Rohingya refugee. Mohammad spoke of his journey from Myanmar into Bangladesh, the horrors and fears he faced as his young family fled through swamps, rivers, and forests for days. He also retold the tale of the moment he heard unrecognisable voices coming through the trees – he had feared for his life. But those voices were not of men coming to attack him, they were local Bangladeshis who had crossed the water to bring his daughters food and to tell them that they were close to sanctuary. Kind, brave, ordinary individuals doing all they could for a stranger in need.
Kindness is the foundation of many of the world’s enduring philosophies. Why then, is being kind out of fashion? On International Day of Kindness on 13 November, we are asked to engage in small acts of ‘random kindness’. But maybe we shouldn’t be so random! Maybe, instead, we should engage daily in small acts of purposeful kindness. Because these acts of kindness change the way we think of each other and they change the way we respond to the world around us. The food brought to Mohammad’s side in the forest on the Myanmar/Bangladesh border did not save his life, but it did give the courage to continue his journey. The honey and bread given to me in one of the most humble households I have ever visited in Ethiopia has remained one of my most memorable meals.
Kindness shakes the very structures that keep people poor and trapped in cycles of injustice. Kindness, at its most purposeful, is wonderfully shocking in a self-seeking and egocentric world. Kindness stands out.
All We Can was born 80 years ago out of a movement of kindness and empathy. Join us, act kindly, do all you can.