12 Apr 2019
There are times that the world feels just a bit too harsh for me. I have moments when I actually flinch at the hurt and aggression I see. It can happen when I watch the news, but also when I witness a borderline violent encounter between strangers over something insignificant (like seeing a person screaming at a cashier in the supermarket). The world can feel like a scary place. In other words, sometimes I get the feeling that all those feel-good movies promise me a world that is unattainable.
Since I’m also prone to despair, I am in real need of a remedy. For me this is focusing on kindness. Most acts of kindness are small, can look insignificant and are therefore easy to miss. But if you go looking for it, kindness is abundant. And because it can be so small, it is so easy to hand out. Just a simple smile can be an act of kindness.
There is power of kindness. If you won’t take my word for it, if you need more than that to see the good in mankind, then I advice you to read one (or all) of these three books. They are not all happy-go-lucky light reads. Especially the first focuses on the darker side of life, not a photoshopped ideal. That being said, these books give me hope. They show the transformative power of kindness. They show me that even when life throws it most cruel curveballs, there is always some light, however small. There is hope.
- Just Mercy – Bryan Stevenson
When I decided to study law, I did it from a (slightly misguided) drive to help people in need. I won’t go as far as to say that I got completely discouraged before the first year was up, but it became clear that the law is not always a friend of the victims, the poor and the downtrodden. It could be overwhelming, I didn’t always feel the empowerment I was looking for. That was, until I took a class with Bryan Stevenson. Here was a man who saw through the system and spoke a truth that has never left me. And for years, I tried in vain to explain to others what he taught me.
Thankfully, a few years ago, he has written a book. Just Mercy is a non-fiction about the severe flaws in the American justice system. The system disproportionally affects the poor, socially weak and minorities and only works exacerbates the their problems, creating a bigger devide between the have’s and the have-not’s. Stevenson pleads for another approach. He argues that the justice system should be less about punishment, and more about mercy.
This book should be mandatory for everyone, but especially the people who work with or for our fellow men who for whatever reason have ended up on the sideline of society. As he says; “each of us is more than the worst thing we have ever done.”
- Wonder – R.J. Palacio
Wonder is marketed as a children’s book, but the story will resonate with readers of any age. This is the story of Auggie, who has a medical condition which causes severe facial deformity. He has been homeschooled until the age of ten, on account of the many procedures he had to endure. But when his medical history seems to be over its peak, his parents think that it might be time for him to go to an actual school. Auggie is very reluctant to go, because he is convinced that the other kids will not accept him. The same goes for his parents, who are afraid they are throwing him in the proverbial lions den.
The story is told through multiple narrators, showing scenes from different points of view. The book is about acceptance, letting go, standing up, facing fears, but above all about the power of kindness. As Auggie’s teacher tells us: “when given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”
- The Art Of Racing In The Rain – Garth Stein
This book is unusual, because the narrator is a dog, Enzo, whose goal is to reincarnate as a human. Enzo tells the story of his best friend (and owner), race car driver Denny, who gets handed out life’s lemons left, right and center. It shows us human life, through the eyes of a literal outsider. Stories from an outsider perspective can become too factual or clinical, but in this case, it is layered with a blanket of unconditional love. This book is about love, loyalty and the struggle to do the right thing when the odds seem against you. It thought me how to look at others with kindness (a bit more like a dog maybe) and remember that “You should shine with all of your light all the time.”
picture by Kristopher Roller via Unsplash