Kindness: it’s a word you don’t hear a lot these days, at least in the public domain. But Olympic chief Jacques Rogge used it in his speech at the closing ceremony of the London Olympics, praising the ‘kindness’ of the volunteers.
Hooray for him! It’s high time this undervalued virtue was given more prominence. It may sound like a pale, wishy washy thing, a form of weakness even. What banker or businessman ever made a fortune by being kind? What reporter made his name by kindly turning his back on a meaty story? What politician ever got elected by speaking kindly of his opponents? Yet surely the world would be a better place if there were a little more kindness about!
It used to be up there with good manners as something well-behaved children (and their parents) were expected to show in their dealings with other people. But it seems to me that around the time Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister things began to swing horribly the other way. ‘Greed is good’ became the watchword – and greed allows little room for kindness. We were all urged to be thrusting go-getters, to demand the very best for ourselves; and, if we wanted to help others in any way, to make sure we enriched ourselves first, so that we had the means to give that help – a formula which ignored the fact that in striving to get rich it is very easy to abandon the better motives that led you there. That was the time when reality TV, with its often cruel manipulation of its participants, began to seep onto our screens; and shows like ‘The Weakest Link,’ which – however tongue in cheek – depended on humiliation for its success. We were to despise those who failed. Clearly, we learned, those who became rich did so because they worked hard – and needed the greatest possible rewards to encourage them (hence the big bonuses at the top still around today). Those who were unemployed, homeless or poor were only so because they were lazy; for them the best ‘incentive’ was low pay and ‘flexible’ working conditions. Later, on the internet, the anonymous trolls got to their poisonous work, free to pour out their bile without fear of being found out.
But kindness? What time was there for that in this dog-eats-dog world? We were all too busy scrambling for survival, fighting our way up the ladder (or falling down it) to be kind.
Yet, thank goodness, there always has been kindness to be found, among neighbours, between strangers, in those small-scale chance encounters that light the day and lift the spirits.
It’s not just the Olympic volunteers. It’s the man who, in winter, clears the snow from his neighbour’s drive; the taxi driver, taking his anxious passenger to hospital, who refuses a tip; the passing stranger who goes to help the old woman who’s fallen over in the street. It’s even something as simple as a sudden smile or softly spoken greeting from someone you’ve met for the first time and are never likely to meet again.
So, thank you, Jacques Rogge – and the volunteers! Let’s hope that kindness is going to become fashionable again.