Best selling author Hugh Mackay in conversation with Rabbi Ninio

November 11, 2021 by Community newsdesk
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Emanuel Synagogue presents Hugh Mackay in conversation with Rabbi Ninio, discussing The Kindness Revolution and how we can restore hope, rebuild trust and inspire optimism.

Hugh Mackay

Hugh challenges us to ask what kind of society we want to become. Do crises and catastrophes bring us closer together? Have the events of 2020 and 2021 changed us?

The social psychologist, researcher, and bestselling author Hugh Mackay has written 22 books, including his latest, The Kindness Revolution. It’s a book with a title featuring a unique pairing of words: few revolutions come about in as gentle a way, or 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.

“There’s an echo of Gandhi’s ‘non-violent resistance’ here – the idea that peaceful, positive ideas can best be spread by non-violent means. Attacks generally produce counterattacks. Aggression generally promotes defensiveness. We don’t want counterattacks or defensiveness when it comes to promoting the kindness revolution.”

His latest work challenges us to ask what kind of society we want to become, asking if the various crises we face bring us closer together. For this celebrated author, kindness is the purest form of human love, thanks to it involving neither emotion, nor affection.

“When we dream of a better society, none of us dreams of a more violent, bitter, divided society. And the curious thing about us, as humans, is that 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.

“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.”

Under the pressure of pandemics, depressions, wars, floods or fires, we are always reminded of the need for kindness and compassion towards each other, and of the need to make personal sacrifices for the common good. Those impulses are embedded in our human nature – we’re hardwired for co-operation, because we belong to a social species. And as kindness is the ‘magic pathway’ to co-operation and social harmony, you can say we’re also hardwired for kindness. Crises, catastrophes and disruptions don’t change us; they bring us back to our core values, to our essence. They lead us to respond to what Abraham Lincoln described as ‘the better angels of our nature’.”

For much of the population, the last couple of years have presented multiple challenges – some their greatest. But in a historical context, things have been tougher. But Hugh sees 2020-21 as being a time of great reflection for us.

“Different countries have had different responses to the pandemic, partly because of societal differences – some countries are more individualistic, some more communitarian. 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.

“I think many people have experienced this, partly because of the extended lockdowns, as a time of great reflection, a reassessment of values, a re-ordering of priorities. I hope so!”

Context, however, is very important. The generation who raised families in the Great Depression had already dealt with a world war and a pandemic before the depression hit. Through this, a degree of now-absent resilience was forged.

“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.”

Being optimistic has been a challenge for many people over these past couple of years. Hugh thinks the key to maintaining an optimistic mindset, even when circumstances dictate otherwise, 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.”

But despite our resilience, he doesn’t think our priorities are in the right place as a society

“If we were a kinder society, we’d be making more energetic attempts to reconcile with the people of our First Nations; we’d be far more humane in our response to people who have come here seeking asylum; we’d take far better care of our frail aged; we’d show more compassion towards those for whom we can find no work; 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.”

Kindness is something that starts at home. Hugh says that what we can do from one day to the next to help expedite the kindness revolution starts with the simplest things.

“Make sure you know your neighbours. Engage with local activities, be more aware of local needs. Above all, sharpen your listening skills. Attentive, empathic listening is probably the most potent, most therapeutic act of kindness we can show towards each other.

“We need a CARE plan: Connect with those you encounter; Accept people as they are; Respect everyone you meet; Engage with your neighbourhood.”

Health Matters – The Kindness Revolution

Date:  Sunday, November 14

Time:  10am to 12pm

Price: Members free. Non-members $10


The Kindness Revolution is available now.

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