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On Kindness

3.53  ·  Rating details ·  536 ratings  ·  80 reviews
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 Phill
Hardcover, 128 pages
Published May 26th 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2009)
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Average rating 3.53  · 
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Jul 01, 2009 rated it it was ok
This book was interesting, but not completely what I was hoping for. I liked that the authors discussed why kindness in our current society is difficult, overlooked, and underappreciated. However, they spent way too much time talking about the psychotherapy's take on kindness. This pretty much only proved my thoughts that Freud thought that everything is about sex. I don't agree, and I kind of felt like I was wasting my time reading about psychotherapy semantics. The authors did have the occasio ...more
Simon Robs
Feb 11, 2021 rated it liked it
"It is kind to be able to bear conflict, in oneself and others; it is kind, to oneself and others, to forgo magic and sentimentality for reality. It is kind to see individuals as they are, rather than how we might want them to be; it is kind to care for people just as we find them."

A go-back look at kind(ness) through the ages, where it evolved from and to, what it is undergirded by and its confusions like all things human split often enough in cointradictoriness in motives/urges, subterfuges of
Aug 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Truly a book for this moment. Brilliant prose. At the dark black heart of all the birthers and deathers out there is nice little knot of all-American selfishness. The belief that if we just all look out for ourselves it all works out just fine. Phillips, hearkening back to the Stoics, Rousseau, Freud, Humes, Smith, and other thinkers, reminds us that it is our connection to others that makes us human.
Mrs Froggy
Dec 11, 2012 rated it it was ok
I feel divided regarding this book.

The first three chapters are really interesting, but as soon Freud was mentioned I lost my interest in what I read. I began to pay attention again when I moved to the last chapter.

I think I was looking for something more inspiring. Also this book with its dry style didn't give me any particular insight on kindness and left me with a feeling that it lost its chance.
Aug 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-15
Dear Dominick,

I read this book because of you.

I'm not always as kind as I would like to be, sometimes because I think it's funny to be crusty, sometimes because a certain harshness is the protective candy coating that hides my vulnerability.

Anyway, you have many lovely qualities, but I have been especially touched by your kindness.

So I'm giving you this book not because I think you need its insights (although it is kind of insightful), but as a token of the change you have inspired in me - and,
Aug 17, 2011 rated it did not like it
The history of kindness was interesting and insightful. The rest relied far too heavily on psychoanalysis and Freudian theory, which is just a bunch of unsubstantiated explanations with little value outside of BSing a term paper. I would have rather seen a comprehensive review of literature and peer reviewed studies on kindness and how it manifests itself, how we justify it, and how we value it.
Nov 18, 2009 rated it did not like it
from KCPL, due 2009.1209 returned

This book is a bit too cerebral for my taste. Still plan to finish it, though.

It seems to me that kindness is very simple, arising from the insight that there is no separation or essential difference between this and that, that all arises in awareness as part of awareness. Kindness is an expression of the natural acceptance that awareness extends to itself, leading to the mutuality of the golden rule -- treating the apparent other as one would want to be treated,
Ronald Koltnow
Aug 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
Kindness is very important to me. I even have a friend named Kindness. In Phillips and Taylor's study of the meaning and roots of kindness, a dichotomy is defined: Kindness requires a level of vulnerability, an opening up of oneself, which we are not always willing to do. Yet, performing acts of kindness makes us feel good, about ourselves, about others. We expect to be treated kindly but are sometimes afraid (yes, that's the word) to open ourselves up. The authors trace kindness through biology ...more
Oct 28, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 311-312
For those who have been through analysis, On Kindness makes a good case for the salience of this word within the accounts we continue to make of ourselves. At least two chapters are intellectual history; at least two read Freud in relation to Winnicott, no great surprise to fans of Adam Phillips, who goes around and around at times to evade criticizing Freud, but for whose ideas there would be no need for this book. Freud doesn't talk about kindness, and it takes a therapist to wonder why, a his ...more
Aug 29, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. Offers an account of kindness as not merely a virtue, but a pleasure. Brilliant account of how reductive and cynical psychoanalytic theory can distort our emotional lives. And, best of all, ties together the personal analysis into a political account of how unkindess is expressed in neoliberal policies.
Oct 22, 2021 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2021
Those two stars are for the definition of kindness found in Chapter 1 as "the ability to bear the vulnerability of others, and therefore of oneself." (p. 6) This link between negativity and kindness is the book's greatest (and arguably only) insight.

The middle chapters are laced with complex psychoanalytic theory which requires more concentration than would be necessary if the book benefitted from any kind of structure, clear argument, referencing system or contextualized quotations. It moves be
Jun 29, 2022 rated it did not like it
Whew! Glad to be finished, what a slog & a lot of twaddle.
Giovanni Generoso
Jan 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: therapy
Wonderful essays - attempts - to revive our awareness, desire, and need to be kind and to be treated kindly. This was a very thought-provoking read, co-authored by a historian and a psychoanalyst. Both argue that what humans long for is an "unromantic," or "unsentimental" kindness - one that accommodates hostility and aggression, a kindness that bears conflict, that in some sense allows room for hate. Phillips in particular draws on Freud and Donald Winnicott to argue that aggression itself can ...more
Amin Rigi
Jun 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
“The self without sympathetic attachments is either a fiction or a lunatic.”
― Adam Phillips, On Kindness

I've been reading Adam Phillips for a while now. Phillips is incredibly careful with his choices of words. Through his writing we often see expressions like 'I want to suggest', 'I have proposition', 'if', 'it is as though', 'it is as if', and many more instances like these. Why I pointed this out? I want to say that Phillips doesn't simply say something with certainty.

In other words, when he
Mar 24, 2013 rated it liked it
A brief but interesting book on the history of kindness, followed by a Freudian take on kindness itself. I thought that the history of kindness (in the western world, at least) was by far the best part of the book, though it started to fall apart when it came to the very Freudian take on kindness itself. I'm no expert on psychoanalysis and where it has gone since it was devised by Freud, (if it has stood the test of time/research) but I thought it was thought-provoking nonetheless. ...more
Dylan Gurl
Mar 27, 2022 rated it really liked it
Brief and thought-provoking. Would probably help in the middle to have a better grasp on Freud/psychoanalysis, but even without much knowledge of that it's interesting. I quite enjoyed the history of kindness, and their final conclusions on what to make of it. ...more
Oct 04, 2021 rated it really liked it
I'm going to give this 4 stars because it made me think about kindness in ways I hadn't before. In discussing kindness, the authors also spoke about how the self is formed and how it is formed not in opposition to others but rather in-relation-to others i.e. there is no self without others. The authors argue that kindness is what creates these relationships; not only that, kindness is a natural inclination in all humans, though we have come to regard all humans as naturally selfish and individua ...more
Aug 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
"Kindness, one could say, complicates one's relations with others in peculiarly subtle and satisfying ways and for a very simple reason. Acts of kindness demonstrate, in the clearest possible way, that we are vulnerable and dependent animals, who have no better resource than each other. If kindness previously had to be legitimized by a God or by gods, or located in women and children, it is because it has had to be delegated - and sanctioned, and sacralized, and idealized, and sentimentalized - ...more
Oct 17, 2019 added it
Shelves: 2019
A western worldview history of kindness is presented including Hobbes , Rousseau , Christianity , and some contemporary thinking.

The book also delves deeply into Freudian psychology, through Adam Phillips portions of the text, which is written engagingly. He investigates the sexual drive and human connections.

And finally, tying these ideas together is a plea for kindness, and a warning about our competitive culture’s tendency towards tribal interests instead of wider human bonds:

“A competitive s
I can't really imagine a more apt, or stirring, read than this one right now. I picked it up out of personal concern, as I had been thinking a lot about kindness, namely, do I experience kindness in the same way that I did—by being kind, by accepting others’ kindness—before lockdown? Phillips and Taylor write, "Our resistance to kindness is our resistance to encountering what kindness meets in us, and what we meet in other people by being kind to them." They illuminate the necessity, as well as ...more
Bruce Reiter
Jun 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Liked the first part discussing the historical significance of kindness versus the egoists. Enjoyed the last part projecting kindness into a modern framework. Didn't really need the middle section with all of the psychoanalytical whoop de do but the book is well worth the read, particularly in today's political and economic climates. Kindness is not for losers, despite what Mr. Trump and his minions believe. ...more
Mar 07, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library
A short history of the various philosophies that landed us where we are. It is edited competently and makes narrative sense.

The history is well laid out; the argument the book is proposing is less so. Though it puts itself clearly on one side of this historic argument, it never delves too deep into the actual theory. For that reason, it's a good book on the history on altruism philosophy, but less so for kindness.
Jul 10, 2017 rated it liked it
Much heavier than I expected, this book took me an age to make my way through. I read the kindle edition, and wonder if the physical book may have offered some better cues to changes in perspective and theme. I felt like I was sometimes thrown into a new school of thought with no warning.

I may have to reread this one to make more sense of it.
Sep 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
A nice book but dry
The whole book discuss the concept of practicing kindness
Is kindness practiced by weak person
Or to control strong person
Or to create an impression to accept the love and allowed to mate
Or it's an act for survival
Every part of above detailedly discussed..
Good one to read!!
David Davy
May 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
On Kindness is perhaps less a definition, though there is an extensive historical review, than it is about the effects kindness or fellow feeling can have on society and the psyche. More than simply being nice, the authors propose kindness is being of a kind with others, and attempting to engage with them as they are.
Chris M.H
Feb 21, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
I think this little book gives a good brief overview of how the virtue of kindness has been viewed in the last few Centuries & currently,, the types of people it's most been associated with, and how modern man can - and why he should - add a little more kindness into his own life. ...more
Jan 31, 2020 rated it liked it
I didn’t think there would be underlying Freudian psychoanalysis on the idea of kindness - much of which I disagree. This book is a quick read with a few theories about kindness that will make one a staunch supporter or protester.
Nov 22, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: didn-t-finish
I have seen a lot of "Be Kind" tee shirts around lately, so when my library put up a display on Kindness books I picked this one. It was a bad choice. It felt like I was reading someone's doctorate dissertation. After five pages, I had to give it up. ...more
Betti Moser
Mar 21, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019
A philosophical history of kindness.
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Adam Phillips is a British psychotherapist and essayist.

Since 2003 he has been the general editor of the new Penguin Modern Classics translations of Sigmund Freud. He is also a regular contributor to the London Review of Books.

Phillips was born in Cardiff, Wales in 1954, the child of second-generation Polish Jews. He grew up as part of an extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins and describes

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“(The French psychoanalyst Lacan suggested that the Christian injunction ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’ must be ironic because people hate themselves.)” 10 likes
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