[Review] The Power of Kindness: The Unexpected Benefits of Leading a Compassionate Life (Tenth Anniversary Edition)
April 11, 2017
Ours is not a particularly big-hearted species. Many of us come of age believing that success is measured in dollars and that kindness, compassion, and a willingness to turn the other cheek are behaviors best left to fools. Our generosity, meager as it often is, is reserved for kith and kin, and when extended to others often comes with a price. We would rather be feared and respected than loved and admired. And so it goes.
In The Power of Kindness: The Unexpected Benefits of Leading a Compassionate Life, Italian psychotherapist Piero Ferrucci rejects this ethos and instead asks his readers to reflect on what it truly means to be kind. To help us, Ferrucci explores nineteen "qualities" he deems to be the essential components of kindness, ranging from virtues such as forgiveness, empathy, and patience to honesty, a sense of belonging, and gratitude.
His reasons for doing so aren't solely altruistic. Ferrucci points to a multitude of studies which show that kindness and its related qualities are good for our health and overall sense of well-being. Not, he argues, that we should be kind simply because it's good for us, as though kindness were like "broccoli or exercise" but because, as studies show, we are hardwired to be kind. What's more, Ferrucci argues, integrating kindness more fully into our lives need not be a thankless sacrifice. Instead, we should think of it as bringing a musical instrument into tune with itself. Not necessarily easy, but so essential to our humanity that without it we are, by definition, diminished.
Much has changed in the ten years since the first edition of The Power of Kindness, translated from the Italian by Vivien Reid Ferrucci, was published. The new edition includes a preface by the Dalai Lama, a new introduction by the author, and a chapter on an additional quality, harmlessness, and its relationship to kindness. Like its predecessor, the new edition also addresses many timeless themes, offering advice calibrated to a wide range of situations and leaving ample space for readers to reflect on their own beliefs, priorities, and vulnerabilities. And yet, against the backdrop of our current contentious and deeply polarized political climate, I often found myself considering Ferrucci's advice and guidance and wondering whether the book stands the test of time.