Kindness in Literature

Kindness is a virtue valued by almost all people across all generations and cultures. These days, when I read books of interest, be it novels or biographies, I almost always make a note of kindness that is mentioned in the works, and I find them rather instructive. Let me share some of my recent readings.

My friend’s daughter Laura Hillenbrand, an award-winning author, has written another blockbuster. Unbroken is a World War II story of survival, resilience and redemption. The mind, body and spirit of Olympian Louie Zamperini were tested to the extreme limits when he was a Japanese prisoner-of-war. In the midst of cruelties and atrocities, Louie found brief relief in one of the few happy encounters in the POW camps.

Kawamura was a new guard who slipped two pieces of hard candy into Louie’s hand. He then moved down the hall and gave two pieces to his fellow POW, Phil. “A friendship was born,” writes Hillenbrand.

“Kawamura brought a pencil and paper and began making drawings to illustrate things he wished to talk about. Walking back and forth between cells, he’d draw picture of something – a car, a plane, an ice cream cone – and say and write its Japanese name. Louie and Phil would then write and say the English name. The prisoners understood almost nothing of what Kawamura said, but his goodwill needed no translation. Kawamura could do nothing to improve the physical conditions in which the captives lived, but his kindness was lifesaving.” 

One of my inspirations for reading law 45 years ago was the late David Marshall, defence counsel extraordinaire. In Kevin Tan’s biography, Marshall’s legendary kindness was spontaneously manifested throughout his illustrious life.

Marshall never forgot kindness shown to him. While studying in London, he was a beneficiary of the generosity of the Solomons. In appreciation for the kindness shown to him by Rose (who was his first love and who remained single) and her widowed mother, Marshall bought them a house in London in later years.

Marshall’s kindness towards children is well known. He often arranged and paid for special shows for the benefit of children. When Devan Nair was detained as a union activist, Marshall offered $100 a month to Mrs Nair help look after his family even though he did not know him very well. The Nairs repaid him but never forgot his kindness.

If kindness breeds kindness, Marshall’s influence in this regard is most remarkable. Kong Seng Kwong, one of his many eminent pupils, referring to many incidents of kindness shown by his master on the latter’s induction as an honorary fellow for life of the Singapore Academy of Law, has written,

“It helped me find a niche in my heart for such a precious thing called humanity and care and concern for fellow human beings…For these reasons, I will always remember you as a great lawyer of charity and humanity. A legend for showing kindness and humane concern for the common folks.” 
David Marshall

Indeed, the former criminal lawyer, Chief Minister and ambassador, was known for his service to humanity and his biographer attributed this noble trait to “his wartime experience and his innate kindness and generosity…”

In The Notebook, novelist Nicholas Sparks painted a poignant and deeply moving portrait of two people in love. It is based on the true story of the lives of his wife’s grandparents. At the end of their journey, Allie was suffering from dementia and slipped in and out of lucidity. In one of her best moments, she wrote about her husband Noah in such endearing terms – something that we who are married should be writing about our partners at the end of our long journey together:

“You are my best friend as well as my lover…You have something inside you, Noah, something beautiful and strong. Kindness, that’s what I see when I look at you now, that’s what everyone sees. Kindness. You are the most forgiving and peaceful man I know. God is with you, He must be, for you are the closest thing to an angel that I’ve ever met.” 

May the power of kindness be with you in everything that you say and do.


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