The state of the world

In the past few days, i have received a number of communications about Afghanisthan — and, in general, the state of affairs in the world. A theme that runs through all the messages is despair – a growing malaise about the state of the world. 

Krista Tippett writes (“Speaking of Faith”) of ”Violent images” appearing so much ”more solid and substantial, more decisive and telling….than kindness, goodness, and lived peace” that “It is easy to bow down before these images and give in to the despair they preach.” But, we must not give in to despair, Krista writes because ”goodness prevails not in the absence of reasons to despair but in spite of them.”

The lives of truly great people, Krista writes, demonstrate that, whatever demons they wrestled with, “in themselves as in the world outside”, they did not “let despair have the last word.” Whatever the circumstances, they responded by doing “what they could in the here and now.” And by simply doing what they could, however small, “They planted….constructive, edifying seeds for their society to move forward on a different footing.” 

It is also illuminating to remember Charles Handy’s advice (“The Age of Paradox”) that the more immense the darkness that threatens to swallow the world, the more each of us must devote energies to ”light our own small fires.”

Photo by Siora Photographyon Unsplash

In “Our Mutual Friend”, Charles Dicken’s last novel, we read a line that is perhaps one of his life-messages to us. Despite everything, each of us must not succumb to despair and cynicism but persevere in cultivating goodness, which consists of a ” heart that never hardens,….a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts….” 

“Try to be Kinder”

In “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life”, Karen Armstrong writes that “one small act of kindness can turn a life around.” Jack London explains why in “White Fang”, a story about a wolf-dog, published in 1906. He writes that “Human kindness” is the “sun shining”, which helps us flourish “like a flower planted in good soil.” 

Naomi Shihab Nye observes, in the poem “Kindness” (one of the poems in in “Words Under the Words: Selected Poems”) that “it is only kindness that makes sense anymore….”

In the commencement address to the 2013 graduating class of Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences , the writer George Saunders tells his audience:

It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.

Sunset, Coimbatore — photograph by the Bibliophile

Guy Stagg narrates, in “The Crossway”, his pilgrimage-walk from Canterbury (the UK) to Jerusalem — a walk (probably about 5000 kms) he set off on trying to recover from a nervous breakdown when he was about 23 years young. Towards the end, we read what is probably the main illumination from his pilgrimage : “In the end, the kindness was all that mattered.” 

In his 1865 novel, “Our Mutual Friend”, we read Charles Dickens on the spirit of kindness — it is having “a heart that never hardens, and a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts….”

Peace 🙂