Kindness is the foundation of the world’s great religions and most-enduring philosophies. Why, then, does being kind feel so dangerous? If we crave kindness with such intensity, why is it a pleasure we often deny ourselves? And why—despite our longing—are we often suspicious when we are on the receiving end of it?
In this brilliant book, the eminent psychoanalyst Adam Phillips and the historian Barbara Taylor examine the pleasures and perils of kindness. Modern people have been taught to perceive ourselves as fundamentally antagonistic to one another, our motives self-seeking. Drawing on intellectual history, literature, psychoanalysis, and contemporary social theory, this book explains how and why we have chosen loneliness over connection. On Kindness argues that a life lived in instinctive, sympathetic identification with others is the one we should allow ourselves to live.
Bursting with often shocking insight, this brief and essential book will return to its readers what Marcus Aurelius declared was mankind’s “greatest delight”: the intense satisfactions of generosity and compassion.
Praise for On Kindness
“If we have all become more self-interested and self-serving, Phillips and Taylor suggest a little more altruism as an antidote to angst and alienation . . . Theirs is a true tract for difficult times.” —Iain Finlayson, The Times (London)
“Part of the purpose of this short book is to reinstate [kindness] as something necessary both to our personal happiness and our communal well-being. This seems to me a totally admirable aim . . . A concentrated essay on a limited but deeply important subject is to be highly valued.” —Mary Warnock, The Observer (London)
“[An] elegant meditation on kindness . . . In a competitive, stressed-out, paranoid, cynical, celebrity-obsessed, credit-crunched society, this might seem a barmy philosophy. As Phillips and Taylor show—clearly, coherently and completely unsentimentally—it’s a completely sensible one.” —David Robinson, The Scotsman
Praise for Adam Phillips
“[Phillips is] one of the finest prose stylists at work in the language, an Emerson of our time.” —John Banville
“The curious thing about reading Phillips is that he makes you feel smart and above the daily grind at the same time as he reassures you that you are not alone in your primal anxieties about whether you are lovable or nuts or, perhaps, merely boring.” —Daphne Merkin, The New York Times Magazine
“Phillips is . . . a bit like an Oliver Sacks of psychoanalysis, both affable and unalarmed.” —Gail Caldwell, The Boston Sunday Globe
Praise for Barbara Taylor
“[Mary Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination] will be essential reading for many years to come . . . Superb . . . Well-written.” —Caroline Franklin, The Times Literary Supplement