Unlearning kindness

When I was a child of about seven living on Long Island’s North Shore, I remember riding my bicycle to the end of a sanded street at the back of a local school. It was a crisp winter day, with a towering pile of dirty brown snow plowed weeks before serving as the rally point for a search. I was helping several adult neighbors look for a toddler who had gone missing, a frantic scramble that was quickly resolved–he  had merely wandered off a block or two.

A surge of young pride filled my chest as a grownup thanked me for my efforts, followed closely by a profound emptiness. I would not receive any tangible reward, not from the neighbor or my parents, not even from a still omniscient Santa Claus, a figure whose mystery I only recently had come to know was a parental invention.

A nagging question hung over me with troubling implications, “why be kind”? I resisted acting on the uncertainty, and it grew stale and powerless as the decades passed.

Why be kind? Why make minor daily sacrifices for outcomes which will probably never circle back? Perhaps it is a heart-driven response. Maybe those of us naturally on the sensitive side have no choice, but I think not.

The machinations of society’s contrived priorities pressure the ego into a belief system of benefit, revenge, and competitive notoriety. However, once societal pressure is recognized as an artificial manifestation, maybe humanity’s natural inclination is to return to kindness.

Unlearning society’s taught path to kindness by overcoming the obstacles of greed, fame, and legacy may seem counter-intuitive, trite or tiresome. But it need not be so complicated. To a seven-year-old, just doing what’s right makes all the sense in the world.

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