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Humility, kindness lead to strength

  • 17 August 2021
In his 83 years, social psychologist, researcher and author Hugh Mackay has seen the sun rise and set on regimes, ideologies, cults, fads, movements and manias. He has also seen language used to clarify and build common ground, or to confuse and demoralise. One constant throughout these years has been his fascination with how human beings treat each other and their planet, and why.

When Eureka Street called scants weeks ago, Hugh was back in his Canberra home after observing a 14-day isolation following a Sydney trip. Lockdowns can be and often are destabilising experiences, but Mackay said he’s found that they can also be a time of de-stressing; a time for creativity and thought. His latest book, The Kindness Revolution, attests to that.

‘Loneliness is an extreme outcome of lockdowns and a grave problem,’ Mackay notes, ‘but some people have also spoken of the benefits of forced relaxation and re-acquiring concerns for others. It is a silver lining of lockdowns.’

As to his theme of kindness, I ask, what is its opposite? Active malice?

‘I don’t think it is active malice; that is an extreme opposite of kindness,’ he responds thoughtfully. ‘It is indifference, yes; indifference to our common humanity. But perhaps the real opposite of kindness is self-absorption. If we lose sight of other people’s needs and allow ourselves to be totally absorbed by our own concerns and ambitions, then we have lost our way to kindness.’Is selflessness, then, in short supply in Canberra?‘Kindness is not part of the ethos of our federal government, or the modus operandi of our prime minister. Our national parliament is based on winners and losers. Kindness is also a problem for many people in institutional religions, which get caught up in dogma, doctrine and creeds.

'We can disagree with each other, but we can do it kindly, not as an ego contest. Compassionate engagement with other people’s views is quite consistent with robust differences of opinion.'

‘In the case of Christian denominations,’ he adds, ‘they can easily lose sight of the essential teachings of Jesus, of kindness and compassion for others, as spelled out in the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount. The good life is not just about which dogmatic boxes to tick — it is about inclusion and empathy and kindness, not who’s in and who’s out.’

To that end, Mackay contends, we can ‘have a contest of ideas and policies without becoming gladiators. We can disagree with