Stephanie Dowrick is by now one of the legendary figures in the world of Australian books. A pioneering feminist publisher in 1980s London, Dowrick transformed herself, first into a novelist and then into a wildly successful writer on psychology, personal growth and, in latter days, spirituality. She has grown and developed with her readership, at times leading and at times listening to the lives of ordinary people. In her latest book, Everyday Kindness, she takes up the simplest concept and creates one of the most inspiring and original books I have read in a very long time.
Born out of her collected columns for the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Weekend magazine, Stephanie soon detected a theme in her brief writings – the everyday concerns about kindness and respect, and the great difference the cultivation of these can make in our lives. And so she edited, extended and enlarged upon these years of observation, creating this exquisite book devoted to such an unexpected topic. The short, sharp chapters, so perfect for picking up and reading whenever you have a spare moment, are at turns surprising, meditative and inspiring.
And I just kept turning and turning through the pages, filled with ideas about how I could make improvements in my life, and how I could afford to extend more kindness in almost every daily encounter. Dowrick encourages us to shift away from the obsessive worry and constant self-concern that causes so much pain in our lives. By re-focusing on the needs of others, and on the finding of solutions rather than the cultivation of complaints, we grow as people and with that growth comes a concomitant increase in self-esteem. Oddly, the self-love we so desperately search for comes to us more easily when we are actively expressing our love of others.
Encouragement, gratitude and appreciation – those wonderfully old-fashioned virtues that many of us have forgotten – are built up in the book, not just as tools of personal growth and social cohesion, but as ends in themselves. There is a tremendous psychic value, Dowrick suggests, in being joyful about others’ successes and triumphs. In doing so we are answering one of the most fundamental human needs – the desire to be appreciated and valued.
Everyday Kindness is essential reading, I think, for anyone who is worried about the state of the world and interested in ways that we can make it better. Its focus is on the personal, on the direct relationships that we are most capable of influencing and improving. Dowrick’s voice is refreshing in its simplicity and in its careful regard for compassion and the necessity of building up our personal power through supporting and respecting others.
Everyday Kindness is available here.
Shearer's Bookshop is holding an event with Stephanie on Wednesday 8th February 2012 at 7.30pm. Tickets are $10, you can book on (02) 9572 7766