Up@dawn 2.0

Monday, December 5, 2016

Kindness, Buddhism, and Altruism.

Caroline Gunter
Final Report Installation Number Two (H2)
Link to first installation:
Thanks to everyone who commented!
I thought for my second installment I could go around and try to find some philosophers who wrote about being kind and good to humanity. However, what I found was all too little, and lot of disappointment. Our favorite philosophers, the ones we still talk about after centuries after their deaths, write a lot of right and wrong, virtue, responsibility, but nothing, or very little about kindness. Aristotle wrote that, “Kindness – under the influence of which a man is said to “be kind” – may be defined as helpfulness towards someone in need, not in return for anything, nor for the advantage of the helper himself, but for that of the person helped”. Which is a fine definition, minimal at best. However, throughout this entire philosophy class, whenever we focus on ethics, kindness was never brought up once.
Which surprises me, to say the least. You’d think not being an awful person to one another would be mentioned more than consequence, the relativity of being a good person to believing in a god, responsibility or obligation, but I digress. It does make me wonder why exactly this is, and why philosophers seem to have too little to say. Maybe, perhaps, it’s because they were so caught up in thinking that they forgot to be kind to their fellow man. Which makes me question if the ancient awesome philosophers we all know and love weren’t actually that good of people. Perhaps it was they just had other things on their mind than to talk about the pink, frilly, happy parts of life. Perhaps they preferred thinking about rhetorical concepts that have no answer, however, that’s none of my business.
To my delight, there is one branch of philosophy that tends to emphasize care and kindness as a principle term, and systematically defines the acts of kindness. The nature of Buddhism often circles the primary focus of kindness.  I found three terms that really interest this subject:
Anukampa: Being moved in accordance with others;
Muducittata: The state of having a tender mind;
Anuddaya: Tender care
I found the use of the word “tender” interesting and important. It has such a stark contrast in what I see primarily taught in Western philosophy ethics classes. We’re often taught to question why be kind to others, or to think only about ourselves. However, in Buddhism I found a refreshingly human vocabulary. Instead of the Western philosophy focus, in which we much abandon all passion in return for reason and conclusions, Buddhism seems to be the softness that I’ve been looking for in life.
This goes to say that moral and mindful clarity are important, and not letting emotions get in the way of certain decisions can have their benefits, no doubt. However, when it comes to terms with human questions or ideals, I will always have my biased belief of kindness. In my opinion, ethics need kindness. It’s important not to always thinking critically, especially in situations dealing with the human experience. Without kindness you ignore the small, intimate parts of the human life, and the large, big picture that will always intertwine with each other.
Which brings me to my next point. I think many people do think selfishly, myself included. I think of just a couple days ago when there was a major wreck on Medical Center parkway, and how it made me late to work. I was so focused on getting out of traffic and into work that I didn’t even question whether or not the people involved were hurt or not. I didn’t care about the people in the cars, I only cared about not being late to work. I think this has been all of us at some point. We’re so used to the everyday conveniences of life that whenever we’re delayed, whether from a traffic jam or something else, we immediately focus on ourselves. We think of all the places we have to be, and all the things we have to do, and yet do we ever think of why the traffic jam occurred in the first place? Do we think about all the other people stuck on the road, just like us? If you said yes, then good for you. However, I’m human and can admit that we all think selfishly sometimes. But, if you’re made aware of it, perhaps we can at least stop some of our selfish ways. I was brought to thinking about selfishness to a fellow co philosopher, Allison Wheeley, on her paper on Altruism, and how it related to the earth: https://cophilosophy.blogspot.com/2016/12/this-i-believe-continued-altruism-and.html?showComment=1480960350553#c936122503235872893
She links to a TED Talk by a Buddhist monk named Matthieu Ricard, who speaks about altruism and the health of the planet. It’s a really interesting listen, and I definitely suggest you to watch it, especially after all your finals are over. Its main focus is taking care of the planet for the sake of not only yourself, but for future generations. He speaks about the connection that both we have with our planet, but also with the environment and it’s species. Kindness extends to all levels, and isn’t just being nice to other people today. It’s about caring about humanity, the planet, the animals, the water, and everything else. To take care of the world is to take care of yourself, your children, and all that you love. Besides, if we don’t care for our planet, everything we know will be gone. We only have one life, and one planet, so you should take care of it!
I think many people don’t see the use of taking care of the earth. Maybe I was just raised by too many liberal hippies, but I’ve been reducing, reusing, and recycling since I was a kid. I even have a compost pile (and a cool Prius, but that’s beside the point). I was taught to always try to take care of my environment. I know it’s sometime inconvenient to go to your neighborhood recycling or trash location, but please for the planet, at least take your plastic bottles out! Or, even better, not use them at all. The future of not only your children, but others are at stake. If we (including myself) all could make an effort to try a little harder, then I think the planet would seriously benefit from it. Taking care of not only yourself, but others, I believe is one of the ultimate forms of kindness. And in a world full of not so kind things, how hard is it to add a little good to the world.
If anyone out there knows of any recent (or dead) philosophers who seriously engage themselves with kindness or anything relating to ethics, I would love to hear it.
From one of my comments quoting Kurt Vonnegut:
“Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you've got a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies-"God damn it, you've got to be kind.”

My two comments:
Allison’s Essay:
Kyle’s Essay:

Word Count: 1,202

1 comment:

  1. No western philosopher ever said it better than Vonnegut!

    Actually Matthieu Ricard's book "Altruism" (referenced in his TED talk) makes reference to a number of western thinkers who have discussed kindness and altruism, including the term's creator Auguste Comte. Ricard's in a great position to notice the convergence of traditions on this issue, having begun as a geneticist before becoming a Buddhist.

    But you're right, western ethicists have tended to focus too much on theories of rectitude and right action, without first noticing that any such theory must be grounded in a fundamental commitment to kindness that will motivate us to prefer a theory that reinforces that prior commitment.