Twinkly-eyed, as the Dalai Lama who wrote the foreword for this book, or patient-eyed, as the new Pope Francis I, priest of the slums of Buenos Aires who was known to wash the feet of drug addicts, the secret power of kindness is that it asks and expects nothing: sublime, confounding, ineffable and therefore, to many, oddly disconcerting. It may be the ultimate measure of confidence, this ideal of tender anonymity, something I search for in human faces and find especially rare in anyone elevated to public influence.
Never tweeted, of course. Never a YouTube sensation. Even the struggling Oprah Winfrey Network seems to have quickly realized that that goop doesn't garner ratings. Faux atonement of disgraced sports figures and anything concerning Michael Jackson or Beyoncé do.
The day after Francis I was elected pope, National Public Radio reported:
Mexico's El Universal sums up a conversation María Elena Bergoglio, Francis' sister, had with the Argentinian television station C5N. María Elena said after she learned her brother had ended up second last time around, "I prayed he wouldn't be chosen ... By the grace of God, I had the opportunity to travel and meet Pope John Paul II. When it was my turn to kneel and kiss his ring, I lifted my head to look at him and found a gaze so full of love and so full of loneliness, the two things at the same time," she said.
Love and loneliness. Cruel contradiction: So much to give, nowhere to share. Set apart from and, as is our way, somehow above the rest of us. It seems that noble qualities are valued in proportion to how publicly they are witnessed, and the more public, the more elevated, the more elevated, the more isolated. We all agree that spirituality as performance art is a desecration, yet the whole point of kindness vanishes when recognition, or keeping score, is involved. Which is worse: deliberately withholding because nothing is in it for us, or someone making sure we know that they would "absolutely" have been there for us if we had only somehow done more to earn it?
Does it matter? Yes, profoundly.
Piero Ferrucci is a warm-eyed psychotherapist living and practicing in Florence, Italy. His book The Power of Kindness: The Unexpected Benefits of Leading a Compassionate Life (214 pages, Tarcher/Penguin, 2006) is a new genre: the first anti-autobiography I've encountered in that all books are, one way or another, autobiographical and autobiographies are just biographies that are automatically self-serving. Any book, however ghosted, reveals the author. The Power of Kindness is as much an open book on Piero Ferrucci as it is his gift to us of a mirror, which takes us a little time to realize is our own reflection revealing mysteriously through the printed pages.
Until this book, I never thought of kindness as complicated. In the global sense, perhaps a viral thing where one kindness begets kindness in others and so on and so on, to which the cynic says, "Life ain't the movies." No, this anthology is a periodic table of the deeply-infused elements of kindness -- each of which, by itself, we consider noble but when compounded form a serene philosophy with which to move through this world regardless of encounters with insensitivity, wreckage or fear.
It's the kind of book we can enter at any chapter. I found that I first went to Trust, for that particular day I had a bruise, still tender to the touch, involving trust. Contact -- I came to that later, as one who realized she's thought it a cute quip to say, too often, "I love humanity, it's people I can't stand." Every chapter is Ferrucci's lucid meditation on Honesty, Warmth, Forgiveness, Contact, Sense of Belonging, Trust, Mindfulness, Empathy, Humility, Patience, Generosity, Respect, Flexibility, Memory, Loyalty, Gratitude, Service, and Joy.
I found the order of these chapters interesting. It's always seemed to me that everything flows first from honesty -- leading naturally, after everything else, to joy. But everything between? Again interestingly, Service came almost last. I came to understand that service and kindness are very different. Service is the almost inevitable outward expression, or need, of fully-developed kindness. Service is a duty, a covenant, a mission, a calling. Or a job. Fully-developed kindness is a reflex. It cannot be taught, but it can be learned.
Opening this book, I wasn't aware of being tense or anxious, yet from the first pages I felt my spirit begin to calm, my head to tilt quizzically, in recognition. Recognition of qualities I myself possess but, in the best tradition of the good person's training in outwardness, compulsively credit to others while brushing off any acknowledgement as, perhaps, my own.
How kind of him.
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