It’s election time in Freiburg. I found the main slogan for the centre-left SPD really intriguing. ‘Es ist Zeit für Gerectigkeit’ (It’s time for social justice). My immediate thought was, isn’t it always time for social justice? If social justice is about improving quality of life, tackling poverty, creating equal access and extending support to the whole community. Then, I don’t think social justice is something which can or should just be turned on and off.
It’s like telling someone ‘it’s time to be kind’. Everyone knows that it’s important to be kind but it doesn’t mean they will be – or that they have the same understanding of what kindness is. Regardless, it’s impossible to argue for the opposite.
Even the pettiest politicians use a warped notion of kindness to advance their cause. ‘We need to help our own first…’, ‘We need to sort out our own backyard…’, ‘We need to ensure future generations aren’t burdened…’
I wish these ideas could just be knocked on the head but politics is so often driven by the personal – which can never be dismissed. And it’s those personal drivers that are a far more useful place to start understanding kindness and social justice.
In my eyes, kindness can be about going out of your way to support a stranger. It could also be about sharing a meal. And it definitely means making people feel welcome and offering the hope of gentleness.
My last day in Chennai was at of Sundari and Krishna’s home and it was a reminder of the many faces of kindness. In what was supposed to be a two- hour visit, I spent the day with my new friends learning and exchanging stories about culture, cricket, family and most of all food. They told me about how their beliefs and Tamil identity shaped their view of their city – and the age-old routine of prayer, hard work and family kept them humming along.
In a community where kindness can’t always be demonstrated in the exchange or expression of goods – this simple formula which I’ve readily dismissed as a left-wing atheist, works for S&K, and it seems to work in Chennai.
This was a city that was always welcoming. Whether it was cooking with S&K or being invited into the back of tiny stores for Iddy, samosas or Tamil coffee – people were adamant that I didn’t just pass by but sat with them. Even when there was no common language.
In Chennai, I thought I would return to see the abject poverty of poverty of New Delhi. I thought I would see the dog-fight that exists just to get by. That’s not what I saw. It’s impossible to understand a city in a week but my impressions of the Tamil Nadu capital as a beautiful and easy place held as I visited other neighbourhoods and explored far and wide.
By all measures, Chennai is an incredibly poor city but it is also one which offers some hope about capacity for change and to be kind against the odds. As I adjust back to transactional 21st living, I’ll look out for those faces in the crowd that are happy to slow things down.
(S&K in Chennai 9.09.17)