Choosing to Be For or Against … Redux

“We become what we love. Whatever you are giving your time and attention to, day after day, is the kind of person you will eventually become.” (Wayne Muller)

Attribution: Donna CameronOne of the things I learned during my year of living kindly was to be better at pausing when I saw unkindness and look for an interpretation that might explain it. I’m not always successful but the act of pausing also reminds me that we often respond reflexively to external stimuli—and our first response is sometimes not the best response, and is, in fact, often regretted.

So, when I heard that members of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church were protesting vocally and viciously outside funerals and memorial services for some of the victims of the Orlando shooting, I paused and tried to think of some way to interpret their actions that humanized them. I couldn’t and I can’t.

Like the shooter himself, these people are haters and the God they purport to serve is a hating god. I went to their website to try to understand. It sickened me. I won’t insert a link—it’s that offensive. These are the same people who protested and disrupted the funeral of Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard nearly 20 years ago. These are not people who are interested in kindness or compassion, or in listening to other views, and the God they portray is just like them. The best I can muster for them is pity.

It may be that some of them are kind to their families, or to people who share their distorted views, or perhaps they show compassion to stray puppies and kittens. But they are not kind people, and, as far as I can tell, kindness is not a behavior they would ever have regard for.

What sort of life is it that is so focused on hate?

I find I keep thinking about a post I wrote a year ago—one that explored the idea that we create our world by what we choose to pay attention to. If we choose positive over negative, good over bad, kindness over apathy or disrespect, we move toward manifesting the world we want to live in, and that future generations will appreciate. If we choose to hate, to repress, or to banish those who think or act differently from ourselves, we build a world of mistrust, intolerance, and hostility. Such a world is small and colorless, and devoid of joy.

The whole of last year’s post can be viewed here, but I want to retell a story I included. It’s a small story of a woman who is not famous and doesn’t want to be. In the wake of Orlando, and during Pride month it resonates with me, perhaps it will with you, as well:

[from June 2015]

Mother Teresa is reported to have said, “I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.”

I was reminded of that quote when I read Jerry Large’s column in The Seattle Times. He wrote about a woman in the nearby town of Snohomish who was being removed as a volunteer leader in Young Life, a well-established Christian organization for high-school students. Pam Elliott’s “crime” was participating with other mothers in making decorations for the Seattle Pride Parade later this month, and posting the pictures on her Facebook page. She did it in support of a friend and the friend’s gay son, and because she believes in equality for everyone.

“Love is love,” Elliott said. “I am not a big activist, I’m supporting my friend. This is what we do for each other, we love each other’s kids like our own.”

The Young Life people gave her a choice. Ms. Elliott can continue her work as a volunteer leader—work which she loves—if she retracts her Facebook posting and stops aligning herself with the gay rights movement. The choice she made was to continue to support her friend and her friend’s son … and what she knows to be right. I’m not comparing Pam Elliott with Mother Teresa, but, like Mother Teresa, Ms. Elliott chose to stand for something, rather than against something else.

This has been a year of such divisiveness, and with the November elections still several months away we can anticipate even more rancor and animosity. Perhaps if we pause to remind ourselves occasionally that we can choose to stand for something rather than against something else we might contribute real and lasting value to our social fabric.

Every day, every hour, we choose who we are going to be, and in making that choice, we choose the world we want to live in, and want our children and theirs to live in. We must choose wisely … and kindly.

“A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.” (Saint Basil, Bishop of Cesarea)

15 thoughts on “Choosing to Be For or Against … Redux

  1. Oft times good ‘things’ are not continued, but remembered fondly. Why not or please do, alter a Year of Living Kindly to a Lifetime of Living Kindly…and continue to share that experience with others in this grand scale as you have done, making the world a better place. Thank You for all your sharing. John

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    • Thank you, John! You are so right that a year of living kindly has become a lifetime endeavor. Whether I rebrand the blog, or keep the name as is, I do intend to keep writing about kindness and communicating with this tremendous community of kind people who are eager to change the world. Thanks for reading and for commenting.

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    • Another possible contemplation. When we ourselves become ‘triggered’ (having feelings of anger or pain) we might ask ourselves WHY and then reflect on our ‘stuff’. We might gain insights to our own challenges and perhaps enjoy less suffering.
      Wishing you health and happiness,

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      • So true. Curiosity is an important element of kindness–so that we explore what’s behind our own feelings and behaviors, and also what might impel others to act as they do. Thanks for a good reminder, and your kind wishes, John.


        • We might even say that we cannot fully empathize with or begin to understand the origins of others’ pain and negativity until we grapple with our own… Curiosity, that child-like quality that we often dismiss as frivolous or immature, actually serves us profoundly well, *especially* in tense and potentially volatile encounters!! And like you say, Donna, the key is to remember to practice… 😉

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  2. “Energy flows where attention goes.” Mother Theresa had it right–peace rally, I’m THERE. Like those people who made angel costumes with big wings to shield funeral attendees from the WBC hatred. “Wage peace” is another phrase I have seen that really resonated. Thanks Donna, as always, for another important post! 🙂

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    • Yes! The “angels” who stood up to the haters sent such an inspiring message of love, and hope, and peace. There are so many angels like them all over the world (though most not as clearly recognizable by the wings!). If we ever need a reminder that hate and bigotry can be countered with love, we have only to look there. Thank you, Catherine, for your wise words.

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    • Great article, Catherine! Thanks so much for sharing. I’m going to look for their book. We need to remember how powerful words are—to both hurt and heal. I think it’s something a lot of us have known intuitively, but seeing the research and science to support it might be just what’s needed to inspire people to choose their words carefully and start early to teach children the power of words.

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    • Thank Catherine, I very much appreciate your sharing. I briefly reviewed the article, good stuff. Stay well and have fun, John


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