We all faced uncertainty and hardship during COVID. Yet, noted author Hugh Mackay believes that kindness saw us through, and will be key in the years to come.
Noted social psychologist, researcher and bestselling author Hugh Mackay will be speaking as part of Emanuel Synagogues’ ‘Health Matters’ series, discussing – among other things – the conclusions his latest work, The Kindness Revolution brings up for our society in the wake of a tumultuous couple of years.
In the lead up to the 14 November event, Hugh MacKay sat down with The Big Smoke to talk about his latest book’s big issues, and what we need to do to make life just that little bit better.
The Kindness Revolution is a book with a title featuring a unique pairing of words: few revolutions are motivated by peaceful, positive ideas. The author says the juxtaposition was a deliberate attempt to create tension between the words.
“My intention was to arrest the reader by conveying the idea that some revolutions – including one as transformative as this one – don’t need to be violent,” he said.
Echoing Gandhi’s ‘non-violent resistance’ it’s an idea that peaceful, positive ideas can best be spread by non-violent means.
“Attacks generally produce counterattacks,” Hugh says. “Aggression generally promotes defensiveness. We don’t want counterattacks or defensiveness when it comes to promoting the kindness revolution.”
The Kindness Revolution asks us what kind of society we want to become, and if our various crises bring us closer. Kindness, according to Hugh, is the purest form of human love.
“It often takes a crisis or catastrophe to remind us of our shared humanity; our common goals; our obligation to work cooperatively to build a harmonious society.
Disruption is good for us, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time. It increases our flexibility, our adaptability, our capacity for adapting to changed circumstances.
“We can easily get caught up in a sense of individualism and separateness – an obsession with identity, whether religious, political, ethnic, or cultural. Crises and catastrophes generally have the effect of reminding us of that.”
For much of the population, the last couple of years have presented many of our greatest challenges. Hugh sees 2020-21 as being a time of great reflection.
“In Australia, despite the damage wrought by COVID-19 – on physical and mental health, on social relations and on the economy – this pandemic’s impact has been far less than some previous crises and catastrophes.
Hugh says our previous generations lived through World War I, the Spanish flu, the Great Depression and World War II, and that by comparison, this disruption has not been sufficient to spark a revolution.
“In our case, there have been major fires and floods to contend with in some parts of the country, and some reasonably serious recessions. This pandemic came at the end of 28 years of uninterrupted economic growth – a very poor preparation!
“Our society, like most western societies, has become more fragmented by social changes that diminish the sense of solidarity and erode social cohesion – our shrinking households, our high rate of relationship breakdown, our increased mobility, our increased busyness, our over-enthusiastic embrace of IT at the expense of interpersonal contact. It, therefore, requires more of a correction to bring us back to a sense of our interdependency and our need for community.”
Hugh says the key to maintaining an optimistic mindset is to remember that ‘normal’ life is about disruption, uncertainty, and unpredictability.
“Disruption is good for us, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time. It increases our flexibility, our adaptability, our capacity for adapting to changed circumstances. Our species has a proud history of coping with disaster and overcoming crises: that’s why we have survived for as long as we have. It’s a bit like happiness: it makes no sense unless you’ve experienced sadness.
“Many people are now saying that COVID-19 is like a dress rehearsal for the impact of climate change. No doubt, the lessons will be what we’ll need to remember as we face the impact of a warming planet.”
He believes Australians have been a positive example to the world of how to pull together in a crisis, despite some people giving way to fear or panic, and behaving badly in its early stages.
“The overwhelming majority have understood what was expected of them and responded accordingly. If you think of kindness as a form of human love, then we’ve seen an unprecedented outpouring of love.”
Despite our resilience, Hugh doesn’t think our priorities are currently in the right place.
“If we were a kinder society, we’d be more energetic in reconciling with our First Nations people; we’d be more humane responding to asylum seekers; we’d take far better care of our frail aged; we’d tackle educational inequality; we’d make a more determined effort to eradicate poverty and homelessness.
“Our problem is that, politically, we have come to think of ourselves as an economy, rather than a society.”