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A note about kindness

A thoughtful reader who wishes to remain anonymous observed that in recent posts on Nelson and Churchill I have not been as kind as I might have been.

The impression was a certain lack of sympathy for those who, unlike Churchill or Nelson, have not been able to pull themselves out of depression or poverty or overcome a disability. Further, the reader noted that those who did overcome were helped by many other people. They did not overcome adversity alone.

I think this is a thoughtful and justified criticism, which deserves a thoughtful response.

In the course of my life I have stumbled frequently (frequently over obstructions I placed in my own path). Many people have helped me to get back on my feet and walk on. I have not been reduced, as Churchill remarked on another subject, to the position of a man trying to pull himself out of a bucket by pulling on its handle. Friends have lifted me up, and faith.

I have known many people who have suffered a great deal and rarely complained. I have heard that there are people who complain endlessly, but in my experience most people show a remarkable courage in adversity, and I often wonder whether I could endure their illness with their fortitude and grace.

It is frequently government which labels people as handicapped, and tries to turn them into victims. The people themselves categorically reject victim status. That is also the line which Nelson rejected and we rejected in our post. However, that is not to say that a person bowed down under illness can overcome it or does not need the unstinting help of family and friends and, sometimes, government.

Depression was the 'black dog' which haunted Churchill. He apparently managed to elude it much of the time by throwing himself into projects, but I have known a number of people who struggled unsuccessfully with devastating depression. They hated how they felt but they were pinned by it, like a walker paralyzed by a great tree branch which has fallen on him or, as our reader suggested, like Job, suddenly impoverished and covered in boils.

I would not want to suggest that any person brought depression on themselves or lacked the character to throw it off. It is a terrible mystery. I regret that my words suggested lack of empathy.

I will always be drawn toward those who overcome adversity for I rejoice in their good fortune and spirit. At the same time I hope I will remember the radiant call of kindness.

There are few medals given for kindness. Here are some who deserve them:


Eglantyne Jebb, who saved children from the horror of war and founded Save the Children.


Edith Clavell, who gave her life that soldiers escaping from German firing squads might live.


Cicely Saunders, who founded the modern hospice movement.


Richard Martin MP founded the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Under the 1822 Martin's Act, he took Bill Burns to court for beating his donkey. Martin brought the donkey into court as evidence.

All those I've mentioned were Christians, and believed with St Paul that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control .

So do we believe.

There are many other men and women, not all of them believers and known only to their families and friends, who are patient and kind.

Our thanks to our reader.

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