It is common to hear that our world is reaching some nadir of cruelty, violence and unkindness. This makes for headlines but reality is the opposite.
I am constantly amazed at the random acts of kindness in the world. Each day as I drive my car I confront the occasional rudeness but equally I am blessed by the drivers who let me in when they have no reason to do so. More broadly our society depends on people obeying rules which have no benefit to them but which serve a greater (even distant future) good. Think about the levels of willing compliance with water restrictions and recycling, or the levels of volunteering and giving to charity. These acts go without reward or recognition and non-compliance would incur no real punishment.
Yes, I rile (don’t we all?) against occasional acts of insensitivity and selfishness. I know some of my reactions are misplaced. The driver who cut me off may simply have been distracted by her children. The litter beside the road may have fallen from the garbage van. But no doubt there are some deliberate unkind acts. They are, however, but a tiny fraction of the acts of kindness. They stand in contrast to the gentle background of unremarked kindness which dominate our lives.
And Australia is not unique. Throughout the world I have found special kindness. Cairo traffic lacks Western gentility but you are also more likely to be invited over to dinner by a random stranger. An airport queue in the United States may be wired to screech volume but your neighbours will greet you with a bowl of fruit. You may lose your wallet to a pickpocket in Africa but when the luggage falls out of the back of your 4WD you may also find 20 Africans have collected it and have it waiting for you when you eventually turn around. A Manila slum may cause friends-of-the-earth to blanch but you will you will see more friendly smiles of greeting than on a walk down Collins St. And so it goes on.
And kindness is on the rise. Despite Iraq, Israel and Palestine and hotspots in Africa the world is overwhelmingly at peace. The countries of real conflict are the true exceptions. Many long-standing conflicts in Africa and Asia have been working to resolution and the European conflicts which followed the break-up of the Soviet Blok are now also, God willing, settling (Chechnya being the notable exception). More generally I sense war is greeted with greater horror and alternatives explored more actively.
I pray that this remains true. It is tragically ironic that the greatest potential threat to the renaissance of kindness is the potential conflict with radical Islam. Religion – including Islam – is the great force for love in this world (I will write separately on this) and the growth of inter-faith understanding sheds light on the nature of the Divine itself. If the ploughshares we are jointly forging were to turn into swords we would put at risk not only our lives but our journey into the light.