A crisis of kindness

May 4, 2009

Kindness is in danger of disappearing – it has become our “forbidden pleasure” and something “we feel consistently deprived of” – so say Adam Phillips and Barbara Taylor in their new book On Kindness. The book is an impassioned plea for the return of kindness in a selfish age…and was probably conceived and written before the world as we know it began to unravel. The book outlines the history of kindness from Roman philosophers through to contemporary psychodynamic interpretations of the concept (in particular those of Freud and Winnicott). At its heart is an invitation to rethink compassion, generosity and kindness as essential to our well being and it’s such a timely intervention as we see the financial markets and the ‘greed is good’ philosophy implode.
So what would our work environments look like were we to take up Phillips and Taylor’s invitation? Might forgiveness and empathy; sympathy and patience sit alongside kindness? Might our rush to ‘rules and regulations’ abate for a while in an attempt to resolve difficulties through discussion? I don’t have any ready answers but I do know that an invitation to place kindness more central to our engagement with co-workers can’t be a bad thing and might reap different kinds of profits in the longer term.