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

Two Kinds of Dignity

The philosopher Robert Spaemann has taught me to understand how there are two kinds of dignity. First, there is the universal dignity that all persons have by virtue of being human. This is also discussed within bioethics as fundamental human equality. Secondly, there is dignity that accords with a person’s particular worthiness owing to the virtue of an office, rank, or moral excellence.

Some healthcare professionals purport to have such neutrality and objectivity so to be inclined to treat every person equally according to the first kind of universal dignity characteristic of all human beings.

But persons, being persons, have a natural regard for both kinds of dignity.

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Jordan Peterson challenges us to have strength at funerals

This evening I finished reading Jordan Peterson’s latest book, Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life.

In the last chapter, Rule XII: Be grateful in spite of your suffering, Peterson mentions that he has repeatedly suggested to his various audiences “that strength at the funeral of someone dear and close is a worthy goal” and he notes that “people have indicated to me that they took heart in desperate times as a consequence.”

After a worldwide book tour and many other public appearances, Peterson has had the opportunity to test and play with his ideas with many audiences. And it is interesting to read his thoughtful reflections based on his careful observation of the reactions of persons in the audience.

Earlier in the book, he mentions, as he has said elsewhere, that he sees people’s faces light up whenever he speaks about responsibility. Peterson is keenly aware that people have been raised with a greater emphasis on rights and the corresponding sense of entitlement that ensues with this focus. Yet, a sense of responsibility is what ennobles and fills persons with a sense of their proper dignity and capacity.

Accordingly, this challenge to have strength at funerals is an extension of his usual exhortation to responsibility.

He writes:

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