This week the news has been filled with reports of hospitals where it is alleged that hundreds of patients had experienced extremes in lack of care: being denied water; left dirty, cold and unfed; being given no or inadequate pain relief; dying in a state of extreme distress and with no sense of dignity.  One of the responses from the Prime Minister was that nurses will be paid by the care and compassion they show towards patients, not just how long they have spent in a hospital.  To me this all too clearly illustrates the appalling state we are in – that the value of everything can be measured against what it is deemed to worth in money, demonstrating the assumption that for humanity the ultimate motivation is monetary gain.  Our post-industrial age has evolved to create mechanical responses to human problems translated through analysing data.  We love data!  It proves whatever we want it to prove.  It is better than observation; it is better than listening; because it can be controlled, manipulated and used as irrefutable evidence.

Last night I watched the end of the BBC programme ‘Africa’, the last in the series, where David Attenborough was filmed stroking the rough hide of a blind baby rhinoceros; there was affection in his touch and in the animal’s response.  David Attenborough was speaking about the global danger of the loss of wilderness in that continent, having already described the imminent demise of many species who had survived for thousands of years before the advent of modern man (I use ‘man’ advisedly). This is yet another example of our blind materialism, proclivity towards greed, and lack of sensitivity. In my lifetime I have observed this movement; from the 1960's when I was at school in which there was a sense real concern about peace, the environment and compassion which, for many reasons, steadily became the fragmented self-absorbed individualism of today.

'It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one’s life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than ‘try to be a little kinder’.'        Aldous Huxley

It seems to me that kindness is fuelled by affection, which is the lifeblood of the human spirit.  We learn kindness through affection and my experience with children, unless there is a serious problem, is that they are naturally affectionate: smiling readily and are unselfconscious, which is different to being shy.  Our systems have no room for affection; this includes our approach to education.  Our conditioning still has much of the Victorian ‘children should be seen and not heard’ which permeates society.  We have a tendency to indulge little children, demonise teenagers, and patronise those in their early twenties – encouraging a small elite of graduates whilst ignoring the rest in this dirty, aspirational race for success. We admire the focused,  the single minded and the outwardly tough. We are obsessed with exams, with curriculum, with measurement. 

We have no time to engage with developing the inner strength of the human being, and we appear to see no value in this.  To me inner strength implies a sense of balance, a confidence that comes not from competitive self-centred activity, but arises from independent thinking and sensitivity to others.  This is not a strength that comes from faith or belief, as this is dependent on an expectation that exists materially outside the individual.  Instead inner strength implies flexibility or flow, like a stream, as opposed to the rigidity and solidity of a rock.  I do not think that inner strength and mental toughness are the same, for inner strength arises from the heart as well as the mind.  Inner strength finds its expression in kindness.

‘The essence of humankind is kindness.  There are other qualities which come from education or knowledge, but it is essential, if one wishes to be a genuine human being and impart satisfying meaning to one’s existence to have a good heart.’    Dalai Lama

So it is possible to state that in having a good heart one has inner strength.  It seems to me that kindness is fuelled by affection and that this is the lifeblood of the human spirit.  The heart is where affection lies; the brain and heart are inextricably linked; and the mind is the combination of the brain, heart and body, all are interdependent.

The question now is:  How can we develop inner strength in others, particularly the young, and ourselves?

I have some observations which I will explore in the next blog.