A person can be the most religious person in the world, with a great understanding of how we should live. They can be the richest person in the world, with a great ability to harness resources. They can achieve the greatest highs in emotion, through whatever means. But if they are not able to be kind, then they are as alone as the loneliest planet, set on a course for dark space. And if they are not able to be happy, then they can never settle; never be at peace.
Kindness is perhaps the first of four balancing skills we need in our lives. In English, the word has a double meaning. To be kind means to be giving. But the word kind also means ‘of the same type’, or ‘alike’. This double meaning reflects something philosophically. It takes us towards an understanding that, by giving to others, we are joining them in some mysterious way, and are no longer alone. Those who have indulged in kind acts will know what this means in practice: an overwhelming sense of being part of something more important than your lonely self.
And yet, kindness, in itself, only makes helpful intentions. It does not, by itself, teach us how to make those helpful intentions a reality. Without an understanding of how the world works, we can be misled into all sorts of foolish acts, which, although motivated by kindness, don’t really change things for the better. Wisdom is the ability to see through immmediate actions to context and consequences. It is the ability to make judgements with equanimity, without being too affected by the smell in front of our noses. Kindness and wisdom are like twins, each a little bit lost without the other.
If we want to, we can take our kindness and wisdom into a more formal world of doing. Those who run businesses and other organisations try to make ships for us all to travel in. They gather crews, set destinations, nurture hope, make difficult decisions. They are not afraid of the idea that humans are herd animals: that we do things in groups, and therefore can be influenced for good or ill. They try to set up plans, and gather resources, in order to achieve designated ends. Without kindness and wisdom, they can create truly awful organisations, full of cruelty and short-sightedness. But, I guess, at least they try to do something big, whatever that means.
The fourth balancing skill is perhaps happiness. We can do all these things – be kind, be wise, be businesslike – without ever touching the piece of our heart that is able to be happy. Consider a sunset. Kindness wants to get us home before dark; wisdom knows the sun will return; business understands how we can harness the sun; but only happiness can help us be content whether it is day or night. Happiness is the odd one out. It does not really need resources or circumstances. If we can be happy, then we have it all, because we need nothing.
Throughout your life you will find these four attributes – kindness, wisdom, business, and happiness – vying for your attention. Sometimes they will seem to contradict one another – business will seem to invite you to forget kindness, or perhaps wisdom will tell you kindness is pointless in the end. There are any number of ways in which these contradictions can happen. But maturity is the ability to balance all four attributes: to remain kind, wise, businesslike, and happy, despite everything that the world throws at you. Those who manage it really are blessed.