Socrates said, “Be nicer than necessary to everyone you meet. Everyone is fighting some kind of battle.”
Everybody’s struggle is unique but agonizing all the same. The struggle of a poor man and a rich man are different but can be just as unbearable. The absolute magnitude of every person’s struggle is meaningless. Viktor Frankl talks about how our suffering resembles a gas. Just as a gas trapped within a bottle can spread out and occupy an entire room, our struggle takes the shape of the container that our lives lend to it. Therefore, there is great wisdom in Socrates’ advice. Our lives take different paths, but we find some unity in our struggles.
However, his advice has a corollary. If we ought to be kinder than necessary to other people, other people ought to be kinder than necessary to us in deference to our own battles. The world does not sufficiently acknowledge our own battles with its kindness.
Kindness and generosity are born of abundance and not scarcity. Being kind to other people can be depleting. Our kindness and empathy has limitations. We draw these virtues out of personal reservoirs of patience. When this reservoir is depleted, it reduces our capacity for kindness.
In order to make corrections, we ought to bring kindness to ourselves – the same kindness that we deny the world, and the world, in turn, denies us. We hear a lot about being kind to other people, but we do not hear enough about being kind to one’s own self. This isn’t an exercise in narcissism, for narcissism is born out of a feeling of inadequacy. On the other hand, being kind to ourselves enables our own generosity. Each act of kindness to ourselves trickles in to refill our reservoirs of patience.
The extent to which we can be kind to other people is determined by how much kindness we can bring to our own self.