One word plays in an unending loop in my head these days, for many days, days that add up to years, decades perhaps, and that word is … kindness.

I can only imagine the worry and stress Fort Frances residents are experiencing as flooding disrupts life in frightening and chaotic ways. The photos I have seen are alarming and I can only hope the water levels recede soon and quickly. For many families and businesses this surely must feel like too much. My bet is that kindness toward each other, neighbours helping neighbours, is what holds despair at bay.

I was reading the wisdom of Maria Popova in her explanation of Marcus Aurelius. He was Emperor of Rome from 161 to 180, the last of the rulers who kept the Roman Empire in a state of tranquility. After his death, civil war erupted, and my understanding is that previous peacefulness was never again achieved. Aurelius was remembered as a “ruler who does not seek power for his own sake but to help his people”, says I am fearful such an approach to “leading” has all but vanished in present times. Aurelius is said to have consistently worked for the common good. He wrote in his Meditations of keeping oneself at peace while the world is at constant odds to that peace. His philosophy was to hold the use of kindness as a prevalent behaviour even when encountering those who choose to harm, even when things go wrong, and perhaps even when rain and flooding is ambushing our lives. He was the last of what was considered the “Good Emperors” of Rome. I believe The Gladiator film was loosely based on his reign; his philosophies borrowed from for that story.

It is never easy to hold “hope” up for a light when we are stumbling around in darkness. But it can undoubtedly be done. I regularly muse upon the thoughts and actions of Desmond Tutu, who described himself as a “prisoner of hope”, even while fighting apartheid in South Africa, and living his life as a human rights activist. Tutu had the most deliciously infectious giggle and it erupted spontaneously and often. He couldn’t help himself, he said. He was hard-wired to see joy in most, if not all circumstances, even when surrounded by the cruelty and violence that is inherent in racism. He focused on creating change, of ensuring freedom was a protected right. He warned the “price of freedom is eternal vigilance” and his advice seems even more poignant now.

I try to emulate Desmond Tutu’s hopefulness, as best I can, falling far short on most days, coming close on very few, but still willing to try. I would like to examine the news headlines without threat to my sense of hope, but I falter some days, despair knocking loudly on the door to get in, even shouting at times, tearing away at my hopefulness.

Recently, I was reading a list of the four things parents give credit to, having raised kids who became extraordinary adults. The one action that jumped out at me from the list was show them the example of kindness and nurture it. There were others – allow them extreme independence; allow them the opportunity to fail and to fail often; let go of control and lead your children by following them. We can tell our children how to live their lives until we are blue in the face, but it is the example we give them that shapes their character. Kindness is best learned by being witness to it daily.