Expanding our circles of concern

Being kind can be viewed as being the opposite of being “self”-centered, where self can be me, my group, my race, or my nation. Being kind breaks down the barrier between “us” and “them”—the barrier that is one of the hallmarks of terrorism.

This barrier can divide me from the rest of the world, or my group from other groups (e.g., whites vs. blacks), or my nation against another nation (USA vs. Iraq), or my religious group against another religious group (Lutherans vs. Baptists). Kindness is based on taking care of others, and so it means reaching across some divide, to the other side.

Think of the devastation a terrorist is willing to inflict. Nobody (well almost nobody) can be deliberately cruel over a period of time to somebody who is “kin,” to somebody they feel close to.  So a terrorist has to define the “others” as totally others.  They have to see them as not worthy of consideration.

The first step towards genocide is to dehumanize those you want to destroy.  So the attempted Nazi extermination of the Jews did not begin with the concentration camps.  It began with defining them. First an non-Aryan and thus not real Germans.  And then as less than human beings.

So being kind, the way we are thinking about it, asks us to expand our circles of concern, to take responsibility not just for our family, but for our neighbours. Not just for our friends, but for those we don’t know.  Not just of “us” for for “all of us.”

What is interesting is that performing acts of kindness helps us break down our conceptual wall of “us” and “them.”  When we donate money to the people from some foreign country that has been ravaged by a hurricane or earthquake, somehow we become closer to them, they become less foreign.

The takeaway of this is that we can make an effort to expand our circles of concern.  Think about those you care for, those you might think of family or as “close to you.”  And think of somebody who isn’t quite in your family, or isn’t really close enough to care for.  You can actually make the effort to include them in your circle of concern.  That might manifest as nothing more than biting your tongue when a colleague says something stupid, or gets on your nerves.

Think about what the opposite of that might be.  You might decide that not only do they get on your nerves, but they are assholes and should probably be fired.  Or taken to an extreme: fired on.

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