Of all the medicines, whether allopathic or natural, I think the most underestimated is loving kindness.
In our busy Western culture, with its emphasis on cell phone, e-mail and telephone communication, we tend to stay cocooned in our own worlds and out of touch with people around us. We have forgotten the importance of feeling loved and cared for; of the link between loving interaction with others and the will to live. Life in smaller communities still encourages this link, but the growth of large cities has created a tendency towards nuclear, isolated living. I have seen this happen in my own life. My mother-in-law lives in a small village in England, in a retirement complex with her daughter a mere two kilometres down the road. She is surrounded by company; she sees her daughter every day and her grandchildren frequently. My husband and I, who moved out to South Africa many years ago, have to make do with phone calls, Skype and letters, which are not the same thing at all.
I recently read about a man who died in his car (of natural causes) on a busy street in a city in the USA. He was there for over a week – people passed by, traffic wardens stuck tickets on the window screen, but no one noticed his body. I found this incredibly sad, but perhaps not entirely surprising.
It is so easy to administer the medicine of loving kindness with a smile, a touch or a hug. It lets us know that we are of value and that we exist. I have a Peugeot car, and many of the parking attendants in car parks are from French-speaking parts of Africa. They invariably comment on my French car, at which I launch into my appallingly bad few phrases of schoolgirl French. A small and silly thing, but it creates a link between one human being and another. Someone once told me that the biggest complaint street vendors have is that passers-by don’t make eye contact with them. We don’t want to acknowledge their existence because we feel uncomfortable about the high levels of poverty in South Africa, but we leave them feeling dehumanised and lacking dignity.
Studies show that children in orphanages who are picked up, hugged and given affection respond and develop better than those left unattended. When our children fall down and hurt themselves we give them a hug and a kiss to ‘make it better’. With loving kindness we fare better, live longer and get ill less often. Medical aid schemes need to promote generous doses of this medicine. The bonus is that loving kindness is free and requires only a little effort.
So how about a smile for the lady at the supermarket checkout till? You don’t know her home circumstances, and that smile may be what will get her through the day. How about a hug for a friend, or a bit of assistance for someone struggling with a disability? Make it your resolution to dispense the secret ingredient freely!