Piero Ferrucci is a psychotherapist and philosopher who was a student and collaborator with Roberto Assagioli, the founder of psychosynthesis. In this polished and pensive tome, he says that we are going through "an Ice Age of the Heart" where people are often chilly and indifferent to each other. The reliance on technology, such as cell phones and email, to keep in touch with others instead of face-to-face encounters is a sign of this "global cooling." The single-minded pursuit of money and power knocks aside the values that have animated religions for years. Kindness is the one trait that can save us. He quotes the Dalai Lama:
"I believe that if we stop to think, it is clear that our very survival, even today, depends upon the acts and kindness of so many people. Right from the moment of our birth, we are under the care and kindness of our parents; later in life, when facing the sufferings of disease and old age, we are again dependent on the kindness of others."
Ferrucci notes that being kind is a way of life that can bring happiness to others as well as to those who practice it:
"To receive kindness does us good. Think of a time someone has been kind to you, in a big or a small way: A passerby gave your directions to reach the station or a stranger threw herself in a river to save you from drowning. What effect did it have on you? Probably a beneficial one, because if someone helps us when we need it, we feel relief. And everyone likes to be heard, treated with warmth and friendliness, understood, and nourished.
"Something similar happens on the other side of the equation: Giving kindness does us as much good as receiving it. . . . The true benefit of kindness is being kind. Perhaps more than any other factor, kindness gives meaning and value to our life, raises us above our troubles and our battles, and makes us feel good about ourselves."
Ferrucci distinguishes this virtue from self-interested politeness, calculated generosity, superficial etiquette, and kindness against one's will. In eighteen well-designed and thought-out chapters, he presents various facets of this quality including honesty, forgiveness, mindfulness, empathy, generosity, gratitude, service and joy. Along the way, he offers many insights into human nature and some practice suggestions. Here is one of them:
"Try this experiment. Start with an ordinary situation such as riding in a taxi, buying paper at a stationary shop, or sitting in the train. Then try exchanging a few words with the taxi driver, making eye contact with the salesperson, striking up a conversation with someone on the train. For some of us, that happens spontaneously; others have to do it deliberately. Be fully present in this brief contact, and expect the other to be so as well. Suddenly a change occurs: Something becomes unblocked and energy circulates. It might not be an encounter of two souls. But it surely will be an exchange of vital energy between two people."
This paperback is a rich and rounded resource that explores the multidimensional powers of kindness as a character trait that can do wonders for civilization if it is practiced by more people every day.