Are Humans Kind?

Maya Angelou said:“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” … 

Kindness is surely a powerful force then. I’ve been wondering about the whole question of kindness and what helps its expression and what gets in the way of it.  I’ve had a few experiences lately, that set me on this train of thought:

The  first is watching the third series of Sally Wainwright’s ‘Happy Valley’, which has been broadcast on the BBC over the last couple of months.  I was gripped from start to finish and have spent a lot of time mulling over this thriller’s basic premise, which, I think, is: can years of love and kindness overcome the glamour of evil and all its immediate rewards? Sally has created personifications of each in her two central characters, and the complex plot within which they do battle.  But as always, her characterisations are layered and sometimes contradictory, which is why they are so convincing. Kindness and wickedness exist to some degree in everyone and she does not avoid this uncomfortable truth.  I don’t want to spoil anyone’s viewing so I’ll say no more than it is a piece of quality tv drama and deserves a viewing.

The second experience is a visit to the site of the old Middlesex Hospital, where I trained as a nurse in the seventies. The main building no longer stands, but the Fitzrovia Chapel remains, and at present is housing an exhibition about the care of patients with AIDS in the eighties.  The Middlesex was one of the first places to offer care and treatment for AIDS. The slide show of photographs and interviews with relatives and friends of deceased patients is moving in the extreme.  

Whilst I sat in the chapel, gazing at shot after shot of emaciated, suffering young men, held, kissed and comforted by their loved ones and the doctors and nurses, I am left in no doubt that kindness is a very human quality, and the Latin motto that adorns a window in the nurses home, John Astor House, “I learn to succour those in distress” Virgil) expresses this well.

The third trigger for this post is Rutger Bregman’s ‘Humankind’’, in which he argues that people are, in the main, kind.  This is what I wrote in my brief review: “So much of this book resonates with truth and clarity that at times it is hard to consider its content dispassionately and easy to lose one’s critical faculty. Every human being, including journalists, scientists and researchers, experiences bias and has blind spots.  Rutger is no different in this respect but what is so refreshing is his unapologetic, deliberate and conscious bias towards the most positive aspects of humanity and that he backs this up with examples from many different fields.  He does a good job on calling out modern day media, commerce and politics and, to some degree, science, particularly Psychology, for its pessimism and frequently negative view of humanity. I recommend this text as a bit of an antidote to that and an aid to thinking and hope.”

I’ve decided I’m with Rutger Bregman and I do think humans are kind but at the same time, sometimes, for so many reasons, they are not. But anyway, thinking about the possibilities for being kind is, in itself, kind.

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