Bookmark and ShareAndy Wimbush is nef‘s Communications Assistant and blogmaster.

Could kindness be a kind of guilty indulgence in our society? That’s the argument of psychoanalyst Adam Phillips and historian Barbara Taylor in their new book On Kindness. They write:

Kindness – not sexuality, not violence, not money – has become our forbidden pleasure. In one sense kindness is always hazardous because it is based on a susceptibility to others, a capacity to identify with their pleasures and sufferings. Putting oneself in someone else’s shoes, as the saying goes, can be very uncomfortable. But if the pleasures of kindness – like all the greatest human pleasures – are inherently perilous, they are none the less some of the most satisfying we possess.

I must admit to being somewhat of a Phillips fan boy. His books are thoughtful, often provocative and always beautifully written. And this latest offering is relevant to the work we do on new economics. “In a capitalist culture that values competitiveness and triumphalism,” said Phillips on Radio 4’s Start the Week, “it’s not surprising that we think of kindness as a commodity to get what you want… We live in a culture which assumes that we’re not interdependent, that we don’t all need each other, that we are the only resource that we have… People are looked down upon when [kindness] compromises their success.”

samaritannef has long advocated that we wake up to the reality of our interdependence, a theme which we’ll be pursuing again in 2009. This year will also see some new thinking on ways in which the economy might be modified to incorporate essential human virtues such as kindness and collaboration.

nef also shares an important belief with Taylor and Phillips, namely that kindness should not be thought of in terms of self-sacrifice or puritanical obligation.  It’s not as if we have to try hard to be kind out of some heavy sense of duty. Rather, we should recognise kindness as a spontaneously arising quality which makes us happier and healthier.

As our well-being team advised in last year’s Five Ways to Well-Being, making a habit of giving to others is a reliable way of increasing our own quality of life. Our experts put it like this: “committing an act of kindness once a week over a six-week period is associated with an increase in well-being, compared to control groups”.