“When in doubt,
It is better to err on the side of kindness…”
The immediate reaction of many upon seeing the cartoon above might be, ‘oh, here we go again, another moralistic lecture…’
Potent images in the press and media of violence and hatred flood cyberspace. In a world where the senses are overwhelmed by ‘bad news’ and where mass and tragic outcomes, which are often caused and then exacerbated by a relatively small group of selfishly motivated, greedy individuals, can cause the mind to shut off and tune the ‘noise’ out. There is always something going on.
Recently I heard a new phrase, ‘compassion fatigue…’ It is quite graphic and it tells us a lot about the times that we are living through.
However, now and then one image will emerge which will cut through all the indifference, the cynicism, the endless debate, and all of the noise.
If there is a saturation point at which the mind’s ability to cope with and embrace demands upon our ‘conscience’ then those which touch us directly at the level of the heart, have the capacity to summon our inmost and boundless compassion. That inner fount taps into an inexhaustible ocean of grace that can swiftly bring all the other barriers down in one great crash.
Suddenly the excuses, the arguments, the ignorance, and the indifference dissolve.
Like a bottomless spring that bubbles up from the ground, seemingly, from ‘nowhere,’ spontaneous acts of kindness arise from the depths of our being. They are not contrived, nor are they limited.
Imagine a world in which beings could exist without this?
Would you or I want to live in it?
There is a favored spot where I often go to watch the sunset and enjoy the final hours of daylight during the months when I am staying in the South of India. It is on a small stretch of road some miles from a village called Adiannamalai. It lies in a rural area among rice paddies and open fields. The road has been slightly elevated. The only source of shade on this stretch is one isolated Tamarind tree of considerable age. Its generous branches have sheltered many a wayfarer over years and decades…
When I ventured there recently for a little respite from the noise and dust of the road and town to my dismay I found it had been cut down!
Little pieces of it remained scattered about. It felt to me, as though I had stumbled across a crime scene and that a senseless murder had just been committed. What had taken years to grow had been hacked down in just a few miserable minutes. A few tattered remnants were strewn here and there. This was all that remained of a majestic tree that had freely offered shelter to those passing by for many long years.
The scene of this ‘crime’ was thus completely changed. The ‘tree of refuge’ which had harmlessly and silently abided in this place for so many years, was, no more. Gone the gentle welcoming respite of shade and refuge; in its place a shade less expanse, strangely empty and entirely at the mercy of the relentless tropical sun.
In contrast to this and not far away, the careful and back-breaking work of the planting numerous Banyan trees was going on afoot. The vision of a few far-sighted souls who may never personally enjoy the shade or grace that these trees will bestow, but who, nevertheless are sowing the seeds that future generations will enjoy.
The effort required to plant and nurture each and every sapling is considerable and yet it is going on in striking contrast within miles of this place.
Every day we can witness acts of kindness if we make it our business to notice such things. Even when they may express themselves in the smallest of gestures they still belie something deep and fundamental to our inmost being.
There is much misery in this world; the sort that is often caused by careless, thoughtless selfishness, yet the very same hands that are the cause of the destruction are equally capable of bringing about the most amazing transformations.
We need be in no doubt at all as to how important and crucial are the collective and small individual thoughts and doings of each one of us.
The fact of our very existence must, in time give rise to the awareness of what we all ‘create.’ A single thread in the great tapestry of life may seem unimportant and yet each thread is crucial to holding the whole great mosaic of life together.
So even if we feel overwhelmed at times by senseless acts and by the suffering and sadness which engulfs so much of this world, there is also much that each and every one of us can do to offset it, at least within our own small orbits.
We cannot know the power of our goodwill and intentions until and unless we believe in them utterly. Herein lies our true strength and ultimately, our joy!
In knowing that we can BE the change; that we can plant that tree, or extend that hand, or be the listening ear, or the shady bower. That we can be anything and everything we want is the springboard to true and actual freedom.
We are never separated from this freedom in our inmost being yet amid the clamor of the world one can forget.
As for ‘the world,’ the words of Nisargadatta Maharaj are something to aspire towards. “You don’t have to change anybody; you just have to love them.”
In concluding, there come to mind the final words in the classic Middlemarch, by George Eliot;
“But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on un-historic acts and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”