The Courage to be Kind

Fear is the path to the dark side. – Yoda, Star Wars

Fear is the mind-killer. – Litany Against Fear, Dune

A Torrent of Insecurity

This morning I woke up and, in between bites of lime marmalade on buttered toast, read my social media ‘new feed’. It was one long queue of sensationalistic headlines and attention traps that masqueraded as a procession of ‘important’ information – and I was disgusted. Normally my ‘news feed’ is packed with articles from science magazines (yes, I see the same ‘latest discovery’ related to me by four different ‘magazines’ all of whom are shamelessly copying or reposting from each other) or philosophy sites with witty or engaging quotations and questions. I normally have beautiful visuals of mathematics or magnificent photographs of some of the most mind-boggling fractals of all – Nature in all its glory. But this morning, that is not what was in ‘my feed’ – that’s not what I saw.

Instead, I saw stub after stub of fear-mongering, hate-mongering and the ignominious proselytizing of ignorance. But what sickened me just as much were the comments. So much bilious hatred, spite, ‘moral superiority’ and condescension of self-proclaimed ‘better people’ and I saw it was just as bad on both sides of a widening divide.

It dawned on me then that everything in my news feed this morning engendered a sense of insecurity – one way or another. From uncertainty about the veracity of what I was reading (who really paid for that study? Was there even a study at all?), to the fear of what violence was boiling-up from other people’s wilful ignorance. There were articles that drummed-up fear about job security (“how to tell that your boss wants you to quit”), or even pushed us to question the value of using solar power (“going green may not be so green after all”). There were stubs which redirected you to footage of an enormous oil-spill that ‘no one is talking about’, and pointed the finger of blame on you, the reader.

Everything was geared in a way as to make me doubt myself! I was assaulted by hidden questions “How could I have been so blind?”, “Have I adequately prepared for that eventuality?”, “What I thought I knew about this may be wrong and even worse, I’ve been telling others about this!” I felt violated and betrayed by my own mind.

And then it hit me: that’s how they get you. That’s how this world is falling apart. That’s where this animosity is coming from. We doubt and subsequently lose our own capacity to think critically because it has been pummelled flat by a relentless bombardment of doubt-inducing misinformation. When the Internet arose we had so much ‘bullshit’ that we learned to tune it out. But then it cleaned itself up. Gradually it became a means of finding ‘reliable’ information, educational information. We discovered real information, shocking information about things of which we had hitherto been utterly and ‘blissfully’ ignorant. The Internet has made the world ‘our business’, our concern. While that in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing – there are things we should know about, certainly, – but it’s just too much for one person. And we’re all one person. Every one of us is assailed by concerns we couldn’t hope to face alone.

But top that off with the enormous amounts of misinformation, distractions; the pathetic and trivial concerns like the issues about whether or not a transgendered person should be allowed into the bathroom of their ‘post-transition’ gender or their ‘pre-transition’ gender (understand me – I’m not transgendered, and I don’t know anyone who has transitioned. I have no family who has had to deal with those issues – and so it should be none of my business. I think I have the decency to see that I don’t have a say in the matter. But then I become a ‘bad’ person by pulling out of the argument. Why? Because other people – for whom it also isn’t their concern – are intervening and causing trouble. So my withdrawal is seen as an active approval of their behaviour. So what am I to do?), It all just builds-up more uncertainty,  more self-doubt.

And when you go through your day with a vacuous pit of self-doubt in your stomach, that gnawing feeling of not knowing whether you truly know right from wrong, not knowing whether you really can tell truth from falsehood, not knowing whether you are a good person or a bad one – then fear, and mistrust grows. If I can’t trust myself, if I can’t trust my own sense of morals, how on earth can I trust anyone else? If I try to trust, does that make me weak? If I’m kind to someone, am I laying down and giving-up? If I try to post something ‘interesting’ or ‘amusing’ to break the stream of fear – am I promoting ignorance? Am I contributing to the distractions? And what else am I not aware of? Am I unaware of these things deliberately?

Stop it!

It is insane to think that being kind is anything less that courageous. It is insane to think that showing respect is a sign of interior weakness. It is insane to think that giving consideration is outright acceptance and submission.

When you show someone respect, you do so from a position of complete strength. Equality is the state of highest strength – neither one of us is higher. If I respect you, it is because I know that you are just as strong as I am. If I treat you as an equal it is because I know that we are just as valuable. If I am kind to you, it is because I am strong enough to do so. If I give you my time and attention, it is because I am secure in myself that I have that time to spare. If I trust you, it is because I trust myself. I trust myself because I know where I stand on these issues. I know what I will stand for – and I stand for it. I have my views, but in my strength and confidence, I have the generosity of spirit to consider your views. If you have evidence that show my views as wrong then I have the courage to recognize them as such. I have the integrity and confidence to change them without losing anything of myself – indeed I am improving myself.

That sounds nice, but it isn’t easy. For one, we need to stop doubting ourselves. The way to do that is to pay attention to what we expose our eyes, to what we expose our minds. It’s pernicious and pervasive.

There are even things that might seem overtly un-problematic, even beneficial. Look at the runaway best-seller “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humanity” by Yuval Noah-Harrari. A brilliant and creative historian who put an intriguing twist on ‘our story’. He posits that what made us special (gave us the evolutionary ‘edge’) as a species wasn’t just our opposable thumbs, or our intelligence – but our capacity to tell stories that other humans would believe as true – which in turn enabled large-scale cooperation. He then exposes some ‘stories’ that we don’t normally think of as fictions: money, human rights, agriculture, and more. Indeed, they are ‘fictions’, which became and remain real only while everyone believes them. But how does that make us feel about ourselves? We feel like we’ve been fools – the worst kind of fools: those who fool themselves and others. We put the book down and look around us and see nothing but delusion. So many ‘social conventions’ are stories we ‘tell ourselves’. While such a perspective can be very effective in allowing us to pull-back and look at the bigger picture, we must we aware of what it’s doing to our guts. What is it doing to our self-trust, self-respect, and self-confidence?

So my exercise for these next few days is to be vigilant of where my self-doubt is being fed. I recommend that you do the same. You may be surprised. If you are, have no fear! Inside you is a very strong moral compass. You know what is right, and if you’re not sure, you can trust that you’ll soon find out – be that by your own research, or by finding-out the hard way. Life will give you a swift kick in the pants if you do wrong. You know it will. Trust yourself, trust your gut. But for the love of Life, have the courage to be kind, have the integrity to recognize what is none of your concern – and have the strength to consider others as equals, and have the dignity to replace your ignorance with understanding.

Love is strength, and deep down, you know that.

10 thoughts on “The Courage to be Kind

  1. A beautifully written, touching, and most insightful essay, Thomas. May I just play Devil’s Advocate for a moment and ask of you, is insecurity necessarily an undesirable mental quality? It seems we are acculturated to espouse the idea that certainty of view is necessarily a boon, a qualifier of our status as informed, sophisticated adults. Politicians dare not appear anything other than entirely certain – about absolutely everything. Similarly, we are encouraged to eschew wavering, doubt, and mental procrastination, they all being signifiers of moral and intellectual weakness. The problem here, I might suggest, is that we are reifying our thoughts to the level of our felt identity – I become my opinions, as do you, yours. If there is some truth in this, then it seems the healthiest approach may be in finding balance and skill in viewing thoughts more objectively, so to speak, being more relativistic, dare I say? Can I relax in the insecurity of knowing I am seldom entirely correct about any given situation? Why must I neurotically identify with, and measure myself against, a single fixed perspective?

  2. Hi Hariod, thank you for replying.
    I think you might be conflating two concepts:insecurity vs uncertainty. Insecurity is nefarious, and in contrast one can be secure yet uncertain in that one’s uncertainty does not reflect how one feels about one’s self but instead reveals a lack of information. I think the message I wanted to put forth was think critically (that means double-check everything, so yes, it means ‘don’t trust everything blindly’) but don’t let the fact that things are uncertain make you feel like you don’t know who you are or what you stand for.
    Unfortunately I have to dash to the office now but I look forward to hearing from you soon!

    1. Hi Thomas,

      On the point of conflating the two concepts of ‘insecurity’ and ‘uncertainty’, then you said in your article:

      “It dawned on me then that everything in my news feed this morning engendered a sense of insecurity – one way or another. From uncertainty about the veracity of what I was reading . . .” and further down in the piece “It all just builds-up more uncertainty, more self-doubt.”

      It seemed to me that you were strongly suggesting that one’s uncertainties fed into one’s insecurities, and that much of the article endorsed that very idea, not so much as a conflation of the two, but in the sense of there being a causal link, and which I agree with. That was why I asked, at the end of my comment, whether the causal link can be broken: “Can I relax in the insecurity of knowing I am seldom entirely correct about any given situation?”

      Perhaps I have misunderstood?

      Hariod

  3. Hi again,
    No, you’re absolutely right, and now I know not to reply while still sleep-addled and stressed about arriving late for work!
    Please allow me to try again:
    I think to answer your question about whether insecurity should necessarily be an undesirable mental quality, I think the answer lies in the word itself. Security is generally a desirable thing, thus insecurity is generally less-so. So no I don’t think insecurity is any kind of good (note I am referring to self-insecurity). However there are all kinds of different insecurities that can be good (risking rejection when asking someone out on a date, off the top of my head). Uncertainty, at least for me, has always been a great source of security because I’ve always been fairly proud of my ability to change my mind, change my opinion, or even change my interests or hobbies. My parents would go nuts I’d changed my passions so often (there he goes, off on another one of his fascinations…). Lately philosophy has succeeded in holding my interest for three years straight. That’s a huge record! But I confess that yes the intimate relationship that uncertainty has with insecurity is a lifelong struggle to keep them well enough apart 😉

  4. Hi Mike! Glad to see you here 😀
    You’ll have to read Sapiens, but he calls the agricultural revolution “History’s Greatest Fraud” (nutritionally less diverse – mainly grain etc. – for more strenuous and repetitive work that he thinks our ‘hunter-gatherer’ frames were not well adapted to). I do like the perspective that it’s the plants that got us to work for them, and it’s true that in terms of ‘successful survival’, wheat got the other plants beat.
    All-in-all it’s an excellent book and there’s a good reason it was (still is?) a best seller. You certainly don’t have to agree with everything, but it is a good yarn.

  5. Hi Tom,

    I’ve just been browsing through your whole Tao Math blog here, and it’s really made me smile. I came across your post the other day while thinking (and Googling) about the Mobius Strip (and the Klein Bottle – but the Mobius Strip is much simpler to demonstrate, or, as you did, just describe in linear language).

    A word about kindness. I used to be sure that kindness was my highest value, followed a very close second by honesty. In all honesty, being honest is much harder work and takes much more courage than being kind, IMHO. I’m currently embroiled in a double-bind I created out of kindness 4 years ago and it’s still causing me pain. Just prior to initiating the agreements with myself concerning this situation, I felt as near to ‘Enlightened’ as may be *humanly* possible, and then not-Enlightened came along and buggered it all up, just to prove the law of opposites! Then, my kindness knew no bounds, but clearly my wisdom hadn’t quite caught up.

    Now I am actually much more aware of my own strengths and weaknesses, but still vaguely struggling with inner conflict. While being no fan of Gurdjieff (and not even knowing if I spelled his name correctly) I did find his theories – which came indirectly through Ouspensky – about the MANY ‘I’s in most people to be consistent with my own self-knowledge. But the situation I’m in has, I believe, just two ‘I’s in conflict with each other, a conflict that I, the critical thinker I that is, cannot see clearly enough to resolve within myself. The same I, perhaps, knows that all ‘things’ arise and resolve, like a line drawn in water with a stick, and this situation one day will be resolved, and made history. So even if I do nothing about it, it’s OK! Short moments of restful awareness, repeated many times, have become almost, but not quite, entirely continuous…

    I shouldn’t really post this. It’s the wrong time of day, but as I just read something you posted at the wrong time of day for you, I think what the FUQ, I’ll post it anyway…

    Love the way your mind works, mate..,.

    All the best,

    Anthony

    Oh shit, yes, the point I really wanted to make even though I’m in the wrong section, but just in case I get side tracked and I never remember to come back here again… The Mobius Strip, I agree totally about its significance! If everyone played with a Mobius Strip, especially in childhood, it was save us from so much bullshit – especially in politics – that the ignorant dualistic thinking of “if it’s not THIS, then it MUST be THAT” creates… debt, war, poverty, death from preventable diseases etc… Just a wee strip of paper, twisted a half turn and stuck back on itself resolves SO MANY arguments which arise from that kind of thinking. That gives me a great idea for my next Vlog which is 6 months overdue!!! Cheers… 😀

    1. Hello Anthony!

      Wow, thank you for the comment! So many times I see my site stats ‘sky-rocket’ (though to be honest, my ‘sky’ goes into the 20s, not the thousands) and I know someone’s devoured my site, but not one comment, not one disagreement, not one “Hi!”… and it leaves me feeling kind of hollow. So thank you again! And I’m chuffed to bits that any of what I may have written could make you smile!

      Now, on to your disagreement (sort of): I agree that kindness can be nefarious – especially the ‘people-pleaser’ kind of kindness – but that isn’t really honest kindness. You can’t be kind (while remaining honest with yourself) to all parties and all people you encounter in your life, because you will end-up exposing yourself as a fraud to one or more of those to whom you’ve been falsely-kind. Usually that happens when you’ve committed yourself to an endeavour for which you can’t or aren’t willing to follow-through. So indeed Honesty is very important. In contrast, there can be honesty without kindness – of the “Those pants make your butt look huge!” variety. So the two need to go hand-in-hand.

      Honesty can be cowardly too – there are those people who are so brutally honest with everyone all the time that it’s a sign of cowardice that they don’t have the courage to admit they’re fearful of being hurt (and that’s why they’re so ‘repulsive’ with their honesty).

      But in the end, isn’t courage a kind of honesty? Being courageous means you’re being honest with yourself, means you respect yourself and your convictions (and in so doing, appear outwardly courageous by your actions which are aligned with your values). So indeed, it does take (honest) courage to be kind 😉

      As the childhood saying goes “It takes one to know one” – so if you love the way my mind works, that means your mind works the same way, and so I’ll say “ditto!”, mate. That is of course reinforced by your brilliant “Short moments of restful awareness, repeated many times, have become almost, but not quite, entirely continuous…” which definitely made me chuckle – thanks for that!

      Wishing you honesty, courage, kindness, health and wisdom,

      Tom

      P.S. I look forward to seeing/hearing your vlog!

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