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It Costs Nothing To Be Kind

When it comes to the question of advice, the mind becomes a beehive of maxims, dictums and proverbs. They consist of simple monosyllabic words, yet the truths they bear are by no means trivial.  Though we never met, my great-grandfather imparted to me a proverb that became the most useful piece of advice that I have hitherto received. It occurred to me that in having the expression ‘It costs nothing to be kind’ etched upon his headstone, he was able to bring something to life despite being dead himself. The personal connection revived in this saying the humanity it had once lost due to treatment as a commonplace. 

From experience, I have learnt that kindness is often reciprocated. This is no new moral, the Greek fabulist Aesop having said as much in his fable The Lion and The Mouse. Many cultures have established the concept as a doctrine, religions such as Hinduism addressing it as ‘karma’. Kindness may even be perceived as an investment. As with all investments,  however, a return is not guaranteed. Charlotte Riddell, in her novel A Struggle for Fame, agrees that true kindness comes from the “goodness of your heart” instead of the “cool calculation of your head”. 

The image of the lion and the mouse from Aesop’s fable is present in William Shakespeare’s play Measure for Measure. Duke Vincentio compares the law to an “o’ergrown lion” whilst Lucio describes the public as “mice”. When Angelo enforces the law, he shows a lack of mercy and loses the favour of the public which he preys upon. Shakespeare, perhaps inspired by Aesop whose fables he would have read at Stratford grammar school, reveals to his audience how kindness is not Pharisaic, having no legislation to it. Kindness can be acted on without restraint which is what  Angelo, who had the power to “qualify the laws”, should have done. 

If anything is to be taken from this trail of retrospective thought, it is that nobody is exempt from being kind. Some good actions might entail the costs of time and money but that is not to say that one cannot be kind without expense. The smile is perhaps the most effective demonstration of human kindness although it is inexpensive. Smiles stimulate the release of endorphins and serotonin, helping to lift an individual’s mood. Being contagious, they can therefore spread happiness to others, possibly inducing a butterfly effect. Simplicity is undoubtedly all that is needed to elicit the most powerful effects. 

I have come to realise that kindness is not only useful towards the recipient but also towards the benefactor. Whether it is through employing authority in a way that is merciful or bringing a smile to  the community, kindness is able to unite us, allowing all to feel accepted. The proverb sounds so simple- that it ‘costs nothing to be kind’. Some have nevertheless failed to acknowledge it, otherwise, the world would be a much happier place. I thus hope that in reading this proverb people will choose not to dismiss it as something obvious but instead to embrace it as a part of their lives.

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