On Kindness, By Adam Phillips and Barbara Taylor
Sunday 10 January 2010
Adam Phillips is a psychoanalyst and Barbara Taylor a historian; between them, they have produced this fascinating little book charting the history of kindness and analysing its place in our lives.
The ancients were all for kindness, as were the early Christians; Protestant reformers mistrusted it; Hobbes didn't believe in it; Rousseau championed it; Nietzsche poured scorn on it. Today it's seen as a camouflaged form of narcissism; or, for Freudians, disguised sexuality or disguised aggression.
The authors aim to rescue kindness from its critics; it is, they argue, a natural instinct which is a powerful source of wellbeing, and this is in danger of being forgotten. True to their own programme, they deal kindly even with those theorists they disagree with (except for a gratuitous pop at Richard Dawkins).
A thoughtful and thought-provoking book, which makes you want to be nice to everyone, not for the pleasure it will bring you, but the pleasure it will bring them. The great thing is that you get both.
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