On Kindness

My endeavour to rediscover kindness.

“I’d say as a goal in life, you could do (no) worse than, try to be kinder… What I regret most in life are failures of kindness.” ― George Saunders

In the early 1990s, I was living in Lucknow and going to study everyday at a catholic school in the heart of the city in Hazratganj. In spite of the school being run by catholic missionaries, most of the students were either Hindu or Muslim. Religion was hardly a topic of discussion or even a selection criteria for whom you interacted with. I had many good friends who were Muslims and we would rarely discuss religion. I remember going to many of their houses to celebrate, and more importantly to eat food, on Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Zuha.

Then in late 1992, the religious atmosphere got a little tense post the Babri Masjid demolition that happened in Ayodhya. Our school was closed for nearly six months due to the tension and the riots. I was more worried about losing the school year and was generally indifferent to the religious sentiments running in the atmosphere. Even then, like now, I was nominally religious and bordering on an atheist. But when the schools did open, we did end up talking about what was happening all around us. One day, at the end of school day, a good friend of mine - Faizal and I were walking back to his father’s shop in Hazratganj. He stopped in the middle of the road and asked me a simple question - “Are you happy that they demolished the mosque?” I could have answered that question in a hundred different ways, but all I remember is that the words coming out of my mouth were - “Yes, I am.”

Even 20+ years later, that statement still haunts me. I can not forget the look in his face at that time. More so, I regretted saying it the second after I had uttered those words, but I never went back and changed it. Or apologize for it. I have looked at many ways to excuse my behaviour in that instance. I was young, immature and living in a religiously charged up environment at that time. But what I regret most about it, is that I was really unkind.

Over the years, I remember many such instances of failures of kindness by me. And they have always stuck with me like a sore point. But the last year has been especially bad, as it has seen a tsunami of unkindness from me. In order to assuage some of this suffering, this year I decided to embrace kindness as one of my core philosophy. I want to practice kindness all the way through - in my thoughts, in my intentions, and in my actions and - to myself, to friend and family and to everyone.

To myself

“You can search the whole world and not find a single being more worthy of love than yourself. Since each and every person is so precious to themselves, let the self respecting harm no other being.” ― Buddha

There are times in your life when you feel helpless and challenged to the core. The last year has been somewhat like that. I have seen the mental models I had built my life around - especially on relationships and friendships - come crashing down. As I struggled to make sense of these ruins left behind, I was really afraid to build and embrace any new philosophy. In fact, I wanted to let go of everything. Being a big introvert, I really struggled as I tried to cope with it all in my head, going in to long periods of seclusion and succumbing to what can be charitably described as severe depression. I tried to experiments with many tools and tricks like distractions, binge watching, travelling, drinking, counselling, vipassana etc. to find a way to come out of this. But other than the small respite once in a while, I would succumb back to my depressed state.

Only at the start of this year, I decided that more than anything else - I needed to be kind to myself. Being very critical and judgemental by nature, I have hated myself over the last year. I have struggled to accept that there are parts of me which are black and dark - where in lies anger, rudeness, vengeance and even insanity. I needed to show kindness and accept myself for the whole me there is. And maybe after this acceptance, there is a possibility that the bright parts of me - my patience, my wit, my perserverance and my understanding would have a chance to come back in fore again.

To friends and family

“In understanding loving kindness, perhaps it is best to put the emphasis on kindness.” ― Dalai Lama

Now it is the close friends and family who see the joy you are when you are happy. And it is them who bear the brunt of your depression and anger. Some of them are given the silent treatment and ignored, while others are given the more vocal treatment and condemned. In either case, the damages is probably equally bad. In spite of that there have been a few friends like Ashok who have shown me the kindness and the respect, that I probably did not deserve. Those who stuck around to see that I don’t sink deeper and deeper in to depression.

In one way, relationships are hard and have always been hard for me. In the spirit of being independent, I have always wanted to be not overly dependent on anyone for anything. I have always tried to be a free bird. But being free bird does not mean to be secluded and alone. The metaphor that I am trying to embrace now is that relationships are like mirrors. The closer I am in a relationship, the more clearly I see myself. But not to close, else I will lose sight of the full me. More often than not, I don’t like how I look like in that mirror. But I can not keep polishing the mirror or even changing the mirror, in the false hope of seeing a different me. The real work always lies within me.

But I need the mirror of relationship to see myself. And I can not run away from all of them. At this moment, I am accepting all my relationships as it is. I am not working on connecting, forgetting, forgiving or blaming anyone in my relationships but only on acceptance. I want to treat each and everyone of these closed ones with the utmost kindness and respect. I understand there would be times like in the past where this kindness would be abused or taken for granted, but I still want to embrace this.

To everyone

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” ― John Watson

It has been a little easier to be kind to acquaintances and strangers. I think I wear the mask of kindness very well - I am a ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ kind of person. This has probably been a saving grace over the last year, especially because even in the worst of my state - I am polite. And many people would have no idea or a clue to the inner turmoil I may be undergoing. But as I embrace this philosophy of kindness, I want to be kinder in not judging or criticizing them for who they are and what they are doing. In some respect, I want to be more accepting of different viewpoints and perspective that drive everyone. I want to live with the understanding that I don’t know the battle that they are fighting in their life and in their head. And with the humility, that even if I may never understand why they do what they do, they still deserve my kindness.

“My religion is simple. My religion is kindness.” ― Dalai Lama