The Conditions for Showing Kindness

Anyone who has ever loved someone who experienced profound vulnerability and dependency knows that people have dignity not only for what they can do but simply, and fundamentally, for who they are.

“Quality of life” is not an individual assessment but a community’s responsibility.

I recently came across these words of Rabbi Dr. Yitzchok Breitowitz who says:

The concept of quality of life, per se, is not a relevant idea because any life is worthy of sustaining because there are purposes for a soul to be in the body that we don’t always perceive. Sometimes the purpose of a soul in the body is not because of what the body can do – even if it’s comatose – but the body enables other people to do mitzvos [good deeds] such as pray, give charity, and the like. So sometimes, the purpose of your life is not what you yourself are accomplishing; the purpose of your life is what you are enabling others to accomplish, and that is a great spiritual benefit that will serve this soul well when it goes into the world of truth.

Such a view requires cultivating the ability to receive help, support, treatment, affection, and acts of kindness from others.

Kindness depends on cooperation between the recipient and the giver, between the person in need and the person rendering some form of service.

A seeming “diminishing quality of life” corresponds to increasing need and opportunities to show kindness.

Painting: Visiting the Sick, Modernist Israeli Oil Painting, Avraham Ofek

Why we cannot bear to look upon suffering

In James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, he wrote: “White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this—which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never—the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.”

This is a startling diagnosis of how racism betrays a person’s own existential insecurity.

Extending beyond the issue of racism, there is this fascinating insight that another’s suffering can actually intimidate us because, in some ultimate sense, we know that it could just as well be us.

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