Reading Matters: Ask Polly

(In which the writer finally sees the importance of kindness in this “fucked up stupid world”, talks to Heather Havrilevsky through her advice column, Ask Polly and remembers an eventful week in France).


My adoptive parents were extraordinarily kind.

I am crying writing this because it has taken me so long to accept this as a positive.

In the past, I have dismissed kindness as weakness – all hope here that kindness is a good thing, finally snuffed out by the contribution of an ex-lover who would say to his friends how kind I was and then left me.

But, now I say, if we lose kindness and compassion then what hope is there for this world ?

Ask Polly

This week, I found letters to Heather Havrilevsky (aka Ask Polly) –  a weekly advice column in the New York magazine The Cut of great interest

The replies from Polly to restless seekers have become of interest to me like  “a rising tide that lifts the boat”.

And here’s why.

Responding to a 36 year old man frightened to embrace change for fear of losing his way and who asks Polly

” how do you distinguish the passing day dreams from the ones you change your life for?”

(extract from “I’m broke and I hate my job”)

Heather answers:

“I’m a firm believer in longing and day dreams. I think when you’re melancholy about your life its not just crucial to notice that but its an enormous waste of a life not to notice it and address it.”

In my book, that’s life calling to you.

Photo: Oliver Jeffers

Intersection with Kindness

And here’s where the whole thing intersects with kindness

“Try squeezing some of your daydreams in with the rest of your life instead. Make a little space for them. Try a few things, take a class, go to a lecture, read a book. Do some new stuff, and prepare to be overwhelmed and afraid when you do it. Prepare to hear, from your bad brain, that you are a joke and a failure. Prepare to fail. Keep trying things anyway. Say to yourself, “This scares me. I hate being bad at things. But I am having an adventure.” Say this over and over. You will keep trying and failing and trying. You will keep working very hard and you will see how that feels. Maybe you’ll discover that you’re bad at most of the things you’re trying. That’s fine! I’m feeling that way about a few of my brand-new pursuits right now. That’s just how it is when you start. Don’t draw hasty conclusions. Don’t use every scrap of evidence against yourself. Keep the faith. Slowly but surely, you figure out if life-changing moves are in order. You will feel your way along, in the dark, until you have a feeling one way or another. You will — slowly, very slowly — learn to trust your instincts and learn to follow your feelings to your truest, deepest desires.”

And here is the most amazing thing: it seems that kindness begins with our self and our own desire

“Have patience, and remember that when you have compassion for your own desire for more, you cultivate your compassion for other people, too — and that includes people who don’t have your advantages, people who have even bigger problems than you have. We should all be aware of the suffering that’s happening elsewhere, and obviously we also need to be painfully aware of the suffering that’s happening right under our noses, in our own country.”

and then

“We have to take responsibility for the state of things. We have to see that we’re all in the same boat, and when some of us feel heartbroken and afraid and angry, we have to be vocal and treat these infractions with the urgency we’d take if they were our close relatives. Because they are. All humans are our close relatives. Your peer group includes every human being on Earth.”

Practise, Practise and Over Again

So the way I see it, we need to be practising deep compassion, kindness on our selves first and have faith that active participation in that kindness every day, every minute of the day will cultivate compassion for the world and our neighbours and in this way can we facilitate change in the world.

And we need something don’t we?  

This one’s for you Father Jacques, I am so sorry for your suffering, you did not deserve this.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s