On Kindness and Competition

Thomas, from Living Next Door to Alice, linked from his post Kindness to a Guardian article:

‘We depend on each other not just for our survival but for our very being…. Modern western society resists this fundamental truth, valuing independence above all things. Needing others is perceived as a weakness. Only small children, the sick and the very elderly are permitted dependence on others; for everyone else, self-sufficiency and autonomy are cardinal virtues.’

That’s not too far from what I was saying in Cat Dreams and Invisible Women, though I put it in a much woollier, personal, female-centred fashion!

I noticed my reaction to a claim about the NHS’s survival being proof we still care. I thought, rather sceptically, that we want it there for ourselves. The best way of ensuring it’s there as a net for us and our own families is to ensure it’s there as a net for everyone. And there I go… saying that it’s self-interest guiding us, whereas there’s nothing to say it’s not still kindness or a sense of fairness, or that we wouldn’t have the NHS in place anyway.

My attention was also caught by:

‘Free markets erode the societies that harbour them. The great paradox of modern capitalism, the ex-Thatcherite John Gray has pointed out (False Dawn, 1998), is that it undermines the very social institutions on which it once relied — family, career, community.’

Worldwide competition can be destructive both individually and to societies. We touched on the potential for damage to individuals at 1sojournal’s (Cocoons and Comfort Zones), so it interested me to consider how much more widespread this type of damage could be.

There’s an old saying, “look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves.” People are referred to as ‘human resources’ these days, so that saying could morph into “look after individuals, and society will take care of itself.”

Why not?

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6 responses

  1. Yes! I’ve thought this for such a long time. Consumerism and the quest for independence is harmful, because we start to believe that goods can make us happy. When we become financially or otherwise independent, we expect others to do likewise, so we’re reluctant to help anyone. I blame Thatcher with her selfish, aspirational, home-owning-on your bike-no such thing as society bullshit.

  2. I agree
    There is such shame attached to needing the help of others and such disdain given to those who need and want to work/be with others…it’s a pity. Collectively we are better.
    The more isolated we become, the more we forget that…

  3. Not to mention that we’re now all dependent on technology that is often conceived, designed, assembled and used by people who would have no idea how to fulfil one another’s roles.

  4. That’s all true… we are trained to specialize in one thing, and then there’s the saying ‘jack of all trades, master of none’… I wonder if we wouldn’t rely more on such people (on a day-to-day basis) if there was some kind of catastrophe!

  5. Actually, I think, as in all things, there must be a balance. I’ve known many individuals who have struggled to gain some form of independence, and most of them don’t forget the struggle, often offerring silent and unsolicited help when they recognize it as needed. And I have seen just as many individuals make a habit out of being needy because it is so much easier to let someone else do it for them. Independence is a freedom, and every freedom entails at least one, if not more, responsibilities.

    Elizabeth

  6. Yes, balance is always good. 🙂 And, as you say, those who have been through the mill themselves have a greater idea of what others may be experiencing.

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