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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: The meaning of true kindness

Rika Kayama

There was an interesting question raised by one of my students at a university class that I teach. "I read somewhere the other day that those who have been deeply hurt know what true kindness is," the student said. "Is this true?"

The student said they had never truly been hurt before, and the passage made them wonder if they lacked kindness. I thought the fact that the student pondered this was proof of their kindness, but I asked other students for their opinions.

"It's difficult to care about others because you become preoccupied with your own problems when you're hurt," one student commented from experience, while their classmate said, "It really depends on the person." The class did not reach a specific conclusion.

I told them, "I do think that if you get hurt, it makes it possible for you to empathize with others who have experienced similar pain," and added, "but to comfort the other person and cheer them up, I think you need to have overcome your own struggle," placing emphasis on the "but."

When people tell others about being hurt and the listener says, "I've been through the same experience," the former might feel a little relieved, thinking, "This person gets me." But it would be problematic if the listener was reminded of their own pain and was made to re-live it. In order to maintain one's calm when listening to other people's painful experiences, one's own problems need to have been resolved.

There are some patients of mine who say, "I want to work in the psychiatric field like you." When I hear them say such a thing, I usually tell them, as calmly as possible, "That's a good idea." Then I add, "You'll become a great counselor who can offer mental support to those in trouble. But first let's focus on slowly healing your own wounds."

Even among company owners and politicians, there are those who say they had it tough growing up. Some of them are kind to others, precisely because of their childhood experiences, while others become harsh and cold to other people based on the belief that "everyone should work as hard as I have." Perhaps the latter haven't truly recovered from their own pain.

First, heal your own pain, and then aim to become a provider of relief or a leader. I hope people aspire to be truly kind through this two-step process. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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