• The Importance of Kindness

    Television advertising has a huge impact on our lives. Even if we don’t recognise that, we know it has to be true, since otherwise why would advertisers spend so much on it?

    Its significance, however, is greater than simply the influence it has on what we purchase and consume. It also has a role in reflecting back to us the values the advertisers assume we hold and the preferences we have.

    That is why I am interested in – and encouraged by – what I detect is a recent trend in the themes emphasised by television commercials. I refer to the number of current ads that take kindness as their theme.

    My first exhibit is a delightful commercial for a well-known chocolate bar. It features a small girl shyly trying to buy a bar, using various worthless plastic trinkets as currency. She watches carefully as she offers each trinket to see whether the shopkeeper will accept them.

    The shopkeeper enters into the spirit of the transaction and eventually signals that he is satisfied with the price she offers. She gratefully takes delivery of the chocolate bar, takes it outside and gives it to her waiting Mum as a birthday present.

    Then, there is the commercial featuring another small girl who is sent on her own for the first time to collect a litre of milk from the local dairy. She is welcomed back with a big hug by her family who have been texted by the shopkeeper to tell them that she made it to the shop and is on her way back home.

    And then there is yet another small girl who is surprised and excited at being given a little puppy by her adoring father. And my final exhibit – a commercial by an insurance company which indulges in some wordplay involving the various usages and meanings of the words “kind”, “kinda”, and “kinder”, all in the attempt to persuade potential customers that they will be treated “kindly” when it comes to making a claim.

    My reason for attaching importance to this welcome trend is that it signals, I think and hope, how powerful kindness can and should be in our daily lives. At a time when religious belief is declining – and, as a result, the moral touchstones apparently vouchsafed to us by divine instruction may be losing their force – we have both an opportunity and a need to establish from within ourselves a set of moral values that will both serve us well and convince our fellow citizens to act according to them.

    The basis of my optimism on this score is not just the incidence of television commercials on the theme of kindness. We are fortunate in being offered signposts in this direction by some of our leading citizens.

    I recall the much-lamented trade union leader, Helen Kelly, whose last words – sadly – on her death bed were “I just want people to be kind to each other”. And we have a Prime Minister who has become a world figure on the strength of the compassion she showed in the aftermath of the Christchurch shootings.

    We each have it within our power to follow these examples and to adopt kindness as the fundamental moral value. That is where so many factors – our self-interest as a society, our instincts as social animals, the teachings we received at our mothers’ knees, our need to work with evolution to avoid obvious threats (like nuclear war) to the survival of the human species – would direct us.

    And from kindness will flow so many other welcome and valuable moral values. Tolerance, compassion, generosity, sharing, empathy, helpfulness, honesty, trust, and forgiveness are all forms of kindness – that propensity to think of others, to put ourselves in their shoes.

    If hard-headed business and advertising executives can grasp how powerful these ideas are, we should not be content to leave it to them alone to understand and know things about us that we do not recognise and act upon ourselves.

    We will all be better off, as individuals and as a society, if we adopt kindness as our watchword. It is the best available guarantee of a successful future for our species and our planet.

    Bryan Gould
    19 August 2019

1 Comment

  1. greywarbler says: August 20, 2019 at 11:27 pmReply

    Like your subject Bryan Gould. Between the bricks that together form our daily landscape is mortar and in cultural terms, kindness metaphorically binds us together, and is the mortar that keep our gracious edifices in good condition, mellow and pleasant to experience.

    The desire to keep these structures to be passed on into our future, and the shelter the built environment gives as we scrabble to initiate new ways to combat our past misfeasances of neglect and imbue the measures with kindness, will be incalculable. The graciousness may help us find the comfort, support, determination and mission to continue our generation’s curating and guiding role into a fragile and demanding future despite many failures.