Be kind

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The big sporting news of the weekend has to be Lewis Hamilton’s third place finish in the Monaco Grand Prix.

Lewis was winning the race by the proverbial mile when someone in his pit crew made a mistake. They brought him in for a change of tyres at the wrong moment, and it dropped him down from first to third. And while Monaco is a beautiful race circuit to look at there is very little chance of overtaking. He spent the remainder of the race stuck in third place. There was nothing he could do.

When he finished the race, he parked his car by the side of the road to compose himself. He knew that as soon as he crossed the finishing line the world would stick a camera in his face and record everything he said, every expression on his face. This is a man who is incredibly driven (if you will forgive the pun). He is highly competitive.

When he was forced to give a press interview, this is what he said:

“The team has been amazing all year long. We win or we lose together. I am grateful to them for the job they do. Well done to Nico and Sebastian.”

He must have been feeling sick to his stomach. The temptation would have been to criticise his team, to scream about the unfairness of it all. But he didn’t. He thanked and praised the pit crew who had just made an almighty cock-up.

We may never know the full reason for the mistake. My guess is that it was a computer error. Every team in Formula One uses computers to monitor hundreds of factors about the race, from the weather to the health of the engine and the life in the tyres. The computers recommend the best time to make pit changes. And yesterday those computers got it wrong – possibly affected by the fact that GPS does not work in Monaco.

And that got me thinking. There is a common thread that runs through events like this and other things in our lives. And that thread is kindness.

Henry James once said:

“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”

I love that quote, although it has taken me a long time to understand it fully.

The day before the Monaco Grand Prix, I was at my son’s school for its annual open day. I ought to explain that we have sent the Best Boy in the World to one of the most expensive public schools in the world. We can’t really afford it and it feels a world away from the comprehensive school that I went to.

I manage to reconcile it with my latent socialist tendencies by saying that (a) we love our son very much, (b) we are paying for it with money that we earned and nothing that anyone gave to us, (c) what else are we going to spend our money on? and (d) refer back to (a).

But I started wondering what the fees were buying us. Why is this hideously expensive school providing a better education than the state?

Or put it another way, at the London Olympics of 2012 almost 37% of the UK’s medals came from athletes who had been privately educated. And yet only 7% of the UK’s kids are privately educated. Why?

Part of this is down to better facilities and better teachers. But there is something else. John’s school also fosters a sense of teamwork. It is the Harry Potteresque world of Gryffindor and Hufflepuff working together to support each other as houses within a school. They help each other. They are kind to each other.

In John’s first year at this school, he has spent a lot of time working on team projects. Even in academic subjects, he and his peers are being encouraged to support each other,

Education is traditionally competitive. We are all fighting to get the best grades which then means we get the best jobs. Exam conditions mean that we have to do all the work ourselves. No conferring, no sharing, no time to be kind.

But when we get into the world of work, it is not so much about individuals competing against each other. It is about a team working together, sharing ideas, communicating. Being kind.

This quality of kindness was one of the elephants in the room at the UK General Election. What most people were looking for was a political party who would be kind to them. And in a difficult economic situation, that was a very difficult thing for the political parties to do.

The Conservatives offered a difficult menu of austerity and cuts with a few choice giveaways, such as an extra £8 billion for the NHS each year and tax relief on pensions. It was a diet of gruel with sugar sprinkled on top.

Labour offered more or less the same policies, but with slightly less gruel and more sugar. Oh, and a nice big tombstone to stick in the rockery garden at number 10.

The SNP offered sugar, sugar, sugar. Don’t worry about the gruel, we will just stick it on the credit card and get the English to pay.

UKIP said that if we kick all the foreigners out we won’t need to eat gruel. But we’re not racist because we have a picture of a fully black person in our manifesto. And one of our spokesmen is half black.

And the liberal democrats promised not to break any more promises again. And to get into bed with whoever would have them in a well-hung parliament. It is a rare sighting of a political party trying to come third through promiscuity. “What’s your name?” … “What would you like it to be, honey?”

And the poor voter looked at all this lot and said … “which one will be the most kind to me?”

Kindness also works in the world of books and writing. We go into this business thinking it will all be about me, me, me. Buy my books. Please buy my books.

But it is also about helping other writers. Giving things back to readers. Not spamming forums with endless “buy my books” posts.

Being kind, even when you can’t see a return coming back to you. Being kind especially when you can’t see a return. Just being kind. Because.

Right now, Lewis Hamilton will be seething. As such a competitive soul he will be furious about letting a first place become a third place because of a simple honest mistake.

Let’s see the bigger picture. He is a fabulous driver who will go on to win many more races and world championships. He is still leading the current world championship and is favourite to finish the season as Champion. Again. The hurt of yesterday’s Monaco will fade when he wins again and again. It’s in his nature. It’s what he does.

And when we look back on this Monaco Grand Prix, we won’t see the disappointment of third place. We will see the incredibly mature way he dealt with his disappointment. He could have let rip into his team. He didn’t. As he said, we win together and we lose together.

This Monaco grand prix could turn out to be one of his greatest victories. And why? Because he was kind.

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