Propinquity or oikeiôsis are a fancy words meaning close, but these words can be useful when thinking about interpersonal kindness. As a rule it is easier to be kind to others who are most like ourselves in some way and the more distant the person the more difficult it is to be kind to them. It is natural to be careful of one’s self because we are so intimately bound up within our own skin. Thus, to be kind to one’s self would seem to be a natural part of living, but there seems to be a strange disconnect here because it is easy to see others being quite destructive of their own well-being. It is obviously self destructive to take unnecessary physical risks such as excessive: skateboarding, speeding, drinking, eating, TV etc. and yet most people, including myself, do some of those things.
We easily see other people violating their own well-being and may even see our own violations, but we rarely change our behavior because we believe it is self destructive. If we have a kindly streak we might occasionally try to help our fellow man correct his bad behavior, but because our own behavior is under our control we think we are in control.
In my thoughts about kindness I like to think in terms of helping another person to get onto his own self-chosen life trajectory with an appropriate act or word. Other people, especially parents, try to do these things for those others for whom they feel personally responsible like their children, but the more remote the relationship the less inclined they are to help.
So, why don’t we change our own behavior to maximize our personal well-being, when we are the center of our perceptual reality? It’s because our actions usually take place before we have a chance to control them. We are almost totally controlled by our habits and our habits are automatic and so far as our consciousness is concerned instantaneous. Our conscious thoughts are an overview and directive but not controlling; we choose a general direction every once in a while, perhaps only once a minute even when we are considering our actions, but the rest of the time, ten times a second, it is our learned habits which are controlling what our body and mind are doing. In order to change what our stream of habits are going to do it is necessary to put up blocks to its routines and seemingly spontaneous actions and insert new habits. That is very difficult to do because our habits, even our mental habits, are always way ahead of our conscious thoughts.
I bring up those problems because to be kind to another person can become a learned habit. It is similar to learning etiquette and in this sense kindness is an external set of learned behaviors. The reward for learning this facet of etiquette, or politeness, is that it becomes a personal habit and as a functioning habit it gets applied to one’s own self. Thus when we have trained our external behavior to be kind to other people with thoughtful actions we reap the benefit of being kind to our own self. When we have overridden our previous callous behavior with this new set of kind habits imbued into our constant flow of behaviors we will automatically treat our own selfs better.
Be kind to others as etiquette and you will learn to be kind to your self as a habit.