There are two common denominators I have observed in the people I have met and worked with in developing communities that have been traumatized by natural disasters or war.
The first is generosity. During the first few years of my humanitarian career this came as quite a shock.
Just imagine, you have lost everything, your home, your belongings and your means of earning a living. You have no financial security, no food security and no expectation that someone will come and help you. You have four young children to feed, dependent elderly relatives and a spouse.
Would you share your last bowl of rice with a hungry neighbour? Or would you keep some for tomorrow, just in case. Would you divide a meal cooked for four into 8 so that all could eat a little, without any hesitation? Would you open your home to a complete stranger?
Post Nepal earthquake April 2015 I have been working closely with a blind community, one of the more vulnerable segments of society. Unable to even see the new dangers created by the earthquake, moving around has gone from difficult to a nightmare. The earthquake has cut the tourist industry drastically and so their core business of massaging tired hikers and climbers has disappeared. Many of them with dependent families, none have security nets.
But everything they have is shared with joy. If only one hiker is massaged that day the masseur splits the proceeds between them all. Only enough money for two cups of chai, the mugs are passed around accompanied by grateful chatter. Collective happiness is the goal not personal happiness. ‘How can I be happy if my friends are not?, Prakash, the leader of the group explains.
Kindness is the second common denominator. A warm empathetic smile, a hand outstretched to help a young girl carry a heavy water bucket up the hill. Letting a tired stranger break his long journey through the mountains and shelter for the night in their home. Survival and happiness depends on looking out for each other.
I have been on the receiving end of the kindness of strangers with great regularity whilst on the frontline. Whilst engrossed in my village assessments I will feel a hand on my back, followed by a gentle massage, a cool wet cloth is wiped over my sweaty brow or I am eagerly beckoned to share a communal plate of lentils and rice. The observation of a human followed by direct need is humbling.
Everybody and everything is so deeply interconnected. Kindness glues people together. Kindness breeds more kindness in every way. You can be kind to your body, and your health will improve. You can be kind to your colleagues and your relationships with them will improve. You can be kind to your spouse, and your marriage will grow stronger. You can be kind to a stranger, and your self-esteem will increase.
In Africa there is the concept of Ubuntu – the understanding that no human exists in isolation. Translated as ‘I am only a person through other people’. Ubuntu recognises that everything one does affects others and the welfare of each is dependent on the welfare of all.