“Charge” is a word that I think of quite often and quite deeply. No, it is not about that ominous bar at the top of the device that I carry in my pocket. Instead, it is a word that I remember from the commencement speech that Randy Pausch gave weeks before he died of pancreatic cancer. He mentioned that the university President “asked me to come and give the charge to the graduates. I assure you it’s nothing compared to the charge you have just given me.” Just the presence of considerate college staff and earnest students who were on the cusp of something special, gave a dying man a certain “charge.” Several things can give us the kind of “charge” that Randy spoke about. But I doubt if there are any that endure, uplift, comfort and secure us the way kindness does.
As a new year commences, it is but natural for us to reflect on the previous year’s happenings, the highs, the lows, the best practices, the lessons learned and set resolutions and goals for the year. I rarely indulge in any activity that involves disciplined listing of things. I don’t seem to derive joy or fun from listing accomplishments. Or reflecting on a set of disappointments either. What I instead do, is let my mind freewheel in search of one dominant emotion or thought that seems to persist in the mind, refusing to budge. As I reflect on 2022, that emotion has been kindness.
Among the things that I am grateful for, one of them is people who provide frameworks to organize my thoughts. While social scientists like Adam Grant revel in tools like two-by-two grids to distinguish between different groups, I also find perceptive writers (for movies or otherwise) offer us a line or a phrase that is simple on the surface yet seems to drive us in the direction of common sense. In that respect, writer-director C Prem Kumar (of ’96 fame) has been a remarkable inspiration. It is an unfussy line in a poetic scene between Vijay Sethupathi and Trisha where he asks if she is happily married. Her response is wonderfully poignant. And more importantly, thought-provoking. She says, “I am not sure if I am happy. But I am at peace with myself.” (It sounds much nicer in Thamizh – “Sandhosham-aa irukena na…nimmadhi-ya iruken-nu sollalam.”) It has been a very important line in my life ever since I heard it for the first time four years ago.
It is because, in my opinion, peace is a lot more controllable than is happiness. The attainment of peace can truly be a quiet, personal, inward journey. Whereas happiness, at least to me, seems to depend more on circumstances and other external factors. Even as I reflect on 2022, yes, there were several moments of joy. But as I think about the few rough patches in the year, I feel that, for the most part, I was able to be at peace with myself and my microcosm of the world. That is because of the kindness that I saw in its most pristine form, sans blemish.
Just like a variety of types of people make up this world, kindness too comes in different flavors. Some express it in well-chosen words, others express it through thoughtful gestures and yet another set of people offer it in silences, just being there for us when we need them. As I introspect on last year, I consider myself blessed to have been the recipient of kindness in all these forms, and more. Instead of sharing the more obvious, overt acts, I shall just share one small memory that will be indelible for me for years to come. I was having a particularly difficult day and broke down near the entrance of my house. The person in question walked up to me, held me tightly and urged me to finish tearing up before entering the house so that I would not have to be seen by everyone inside. He offered a few words of assurance, put his hand over my shoulder and walked inside with me. Imagine a phone that was devoid of power, to be fully charged in a minute. That is exactly what happened then.
Of course, life is not just about acknowledging and appreciating acts of kindness. It is as much about giving, if not more. And from what I have learned from those innately kind souls, the key to giving kindness effectively is rooted in one element. It is in how well we can transmute our feelings of empathy for a person into words, actions or gestures that touch the innermost core of what the other person is experiencing. To place ourselves in the shoes of another person is easier said than done. But if we were to truly get to the heart of what is disturbing another person, then we will come up with the right avenue to exhibit our kindness. The person I mentioned above knew what was disturbing me and realized that what I needed at that moment was the license to tear up without fear of judgment. He knew that I needed a shoulder, not a solution. As a result, he enabled me to, in fact, strengthen myself post the catharsis.
As I look ahead to 2023, I seek comfort from the fact that I have people who give me that charge in many a form. I am equally fortunate that I have been able to be that charge when a few close ones have needed my support. In both cases, I tell myself that kindness can be the controllable element amid the vagaries of fate and the uncertainties of life. It can be the constant amidst several variables. In essence, it can be that supercharger that ensures that we are quickly up and running.
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