Allen & Unwin, Australia, 2021
This is a gentle but assertive book. The author, a social psychologist by trade, has produced a work of contemporary philosophy in which he argues that kindness is hard-wired into us as human beings. We are as a species built for co-operation and collaboration, though, of course, we do not always behave in this way.
Referring to recent international and national events, including COVID-19 and the 2019-20 Australian bushfires, he presents a case for making a better world through the daily practice of human kindness. He cites examples of how normal people have reacted instinctively with acts of kindness not just to those they know or to slightly known neighbours but to total strangers.
Hugh Mackay starts with the notion that the sorts of hardships and crises which we have suffered globally and as a whole society work to make us better human beings; this is the idea of suffering not just making us stouter emotionally but more attuned to others, more willing to be one of a community with one’s fellows and more able to deal with other challenges that inevitably come in life. Perfection and the continuance of a quiet life are outside our reach and outside the bounds of reality, and, the author would argue, not what is best for us.
His ruminations on society cover a vast number of subjects pertaining to social justice, communications and the elements of equity which are the pre-requisites for a just world – including education, employment, gender and language.
This is a fascinating and absorbing read and the author’s arguments are compelling. Naturally, nobody if asked, seeks a more violent and unsettled world and the tools for the creation of a better society are well within our reach. It will not be perfect – only in death is there perfection. We are perfectly dead, says Mackay.
I found myself nodding in furious agreement throughout this book. There is rigour but also gentle humour here. It’s a work of great sensitivity, intelligent but never patronising, persuasive but never hectoring. These are ideas that need airing and putting into practice. And they are eminently do-able. We are already doing so much of what is needed. We know what else is needed, what further steps must be taken to achieve the restoration of hope, trust and optimism, to make more of the world into a better place.
The Kindness Revolution could be described as a sort of textbook on empathetic, purposeful and socially responsible living. It’s a joyous read, though, quite unlike what you would normally think of as a textbook. It would make a superb addition to every home and public library.
Thank you to Allen & Unwin for the review copy and to Hugh Mackay for the generous giving of your time to speak of these things.