Our Future Health & Happiness – an essay by Zia Ali

Kindness – a radical elixir for our future health

‘Kindness’, like the word ‘Love’ and ‘Compassion’, is an often misunderstood word, or perhaps it’s only a partially understood word.  Rather than considering kindness as a kind of luxury or ideal personality trait in people, I contend that kindness is one of the core facets of being a human being. It therefore seems a worthwhile enquiry to consider the quality of kindness as integral to our health and well-being. “There are good reasons for understanding kindness to be a natural predisposition, part of what counts in being human. The word ‘kind’ has the same etymological roots as ‘kin’, ‘kindred’ (family) and ‘kind’ (‘type’). This is suggestive of a natural relationship of kindness between members of the same family, group or species. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (gives the first definition of ‘kindly’ as ‘existing or occurring according to the laws of nature’, thus implying that kindness is natural capacity” (1)

We also have the word ‘kinship’ deriving from the same root, and kinship implies a social connection and belonging, a sense of people being valued and respected. During my childhood and adolescence, I had several operations and anxious hospital visits. Some were upsetting, but a few were not. The ones that were not all shared a commonality: a doctor or nurse treated me with kindness. It only took a moment, just a reassurance, asking me how I was doing. They told me clearly what my diagnosis was, what they were going to do, how much they knew and didn’t know, and what I needed to do afterwards to recover well. This represents exemplary and fundamental professional practice, yet on the occasions when I didn’t receive this ‘kindness’, I found the experience of surgery upsetting and even traumatising. Quite simply, when I was treated with dignity and respect, I felt calm, safe and cared for – and I recovered well.

In John Ballatt’s book, ‘Intelligent Kindness: Reforming the Culture of Healthcare’ (2),  a series of interviews with patients about ‘ what do they really want from our doctors the testimonies arrived at these conclusions: patients wanted doctors to be kind, offer hope and certainty, provides relief from suffering, and to be available at short notice. Notice that patients didn’t ask the doctor to lie about their condition. They wanted ‘hope and certainty.’ The quality of kindness does not require additional time; it simply requires an awareness that the relationship between human beings is paramount. Our Future Health is about making this kindness and kinship thrive in our daily lives. We need it when we are critically ill for sure, but more importantly our wellbeing comes from the connections and belonging we create with each other. And it costs nothing extra and demands no more time either.

  1. Kindness in pedagogical practice and academic life, British Journal of Sociology of Education, Volume 31, Issue 2, 2010
  2. Intelligent Kindness: reforming the culture of healthcare, John Ballatt & Penelope Campling, RCPsych Publications, 2011

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