Evan Esar, a 20th-century American humorist and author aptly put that “Character is what you have left when you’ve lost everything you can lose.”
When you have lost everything you can lose and therefore are being left without any proof of material or social power, you can’t identify yourself other than with your mere actions and with how you treat people. Would that be a frightening expropriation and dis-empowerment or would you take it as an opportunity to show who you really are?
Imagine you lost yourself in a Robinson Crusoe-like way, just that you aren’t stranded on a lonely island but rather in a different society somewhere on the other side of the world. There wouldn’t be a ‘Your majesty,’ ‘Doctor X,’ or ‘Mr. Director’ anymore and achievements, family origins, and social networks wouldn’t be known to anybody and therefore not exist. So, without any credit for your past, you could, on the other side, also enjoy freedom from prejudices, expectations, and social pressures. Wouldn’t it be great to embark on such an adventurous journey?
A challenge though would be what asset you still had at your disposition after you’ve lost anything you can lose. The answer is kindness. Think about it as a timeless and universal currency that is making us and others feeling good about us. It is always possible to cultivate our good character and spread the most valuable quality there is: timeless kindness for the benefit of society and our all well-being.
Mahatma Gandhi recommended going every year somewhere where we’ve never been before. Indeed, being uprooted even for a short period may provide for an eye-opening experience on what is left after we’ve lost everything we can lose: Timeless, universal kindness coming from a strong character that nobody and nothing can take away from our control.
In that sense: On what side of the world and with whatever we end up, if we always stay truly kind to ourselves and others, we can’t get lost at all.