America, the Cruel … or the Kind?

“When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.” (Jimi Hendrix)

Attribution: Donna CameronRecently, I was interviewed for an article about my soon-to-be published book, A Year of Living Kindly (yes, it appears I am something of a one-trick pony). One question the interviewer asked me was what I think the biggest misconception is about kindness.

That’s an easy one: the biggest misconception about kindness is that it is weak, that it is soft, bland, and insubstantial. That kind people are pushovers, ineffective, and easily manipulated. That kindness itself is feeble and puny in the face of power or authority.

There seem to be a lot of people who equate kindness or compassion with weakness. If they think about kindness at all, it is only to deride or dismiss it. Unfortunately, that misinformed and deluded group includes America’s President and his closest accomplices. Again and again, their words and their actions convey the belief that there is no place for empathy or kindness in governing our country.

The values they espouse—if they can even be called values—are wealth, power, privilege, dominance, and plunder. As a result, we’ve seen our country behave in ways that are heartless and shameful. To a world that once largely looked to us with respect and admiration, we have demonstrated callous depravity, as well as baffling ignorance. We deserve neither respect nor admiration. This is not easy to admit. While I’m not ready to say I am ashamed to be an American, I am ashamed, as well as horrified, by my country’s behavior—toward other countries, people seeking asylum, and our own residents and citizens who don’t meet the standards of wealth and whiteness that the current Administration prizes.

When I started writing about and researching kindness 3½ years ago, I saw it as something important, a valued trait that enriched human connection, and something to aspire to. I did not yet recognize its might. It didn’t take long, though, for me to see that kindness is really a super-power. It takes strength and courage. It means putting yourself out there—sometimes in ways that may be uncomfortable, awkward, and perhaps even dangerous.

It takes courage and strength to stand up to a bully, to confront intolerance or bigotry, to extend kindness in the face of possible rejection. Kindness makes us vulnerable. Accepting that vulnerability and moving forward takes the finest kind of courage.

Bullies don’t have courage. Domineering, selfish, and unkind people are what they fear most: they’re weak and pitiful. And when they run a country, that country—by means of their words and actions—becomes weak and pitiful, too.

Today, I’m not proud of my country. I am proud of many of the things we have done in the past. I am proud of the tenets upon which our country was built and the values we have often espoused—though also frequently disregarded. For me, these last few years—especially since the election of Donald Trump, but even before that—have opened my eyes to how far we still have to go to be a country of courage and kindness, to truly model equality and justice for all, to welcome differences and see that they make us stronger, better. Are we up to the task, or is America’s reign as a vital world leader over, destroyed by the arrogance and ignorance of our elected leaders, and the apathy and greed of the electorate?

As we enter into another election cycle, and shortly thereafter begin another that will truly define us as a nation, I hope we remember that kindness is a strength and those who cannot embrace it, understand it, or express it, have no place in our government.

I recently came across a poem by Heath Houston, entitled “To You, the Honest and Kind.” It expresses beautifully what I hope people will understand about kindness. I’m sure it would be a copyright violation if I reprinted it here, but perhaps these few lines will make you want to read the whole poem:

Kindness, charity, honesty, these are not weaknesses.
Only the very strongest can master these.
Lies, deceit, anger, aggression, hate,
those are mastered by and master of
even the weakest person who indulges them.

What’s the biggest misconception about kindness? That is it weak, that it is unremarkable, that it doesn’t matter.

Kindness matters . . . now more than ever.

“Live simply, so others may simply live.” (Attributed to many, including Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi)

30 thoughts on “America, the Cruel … or the Kind?

  1. I think that not only is kindness strength, but it’s courage in the face of incivility. It’s the kind of courage I often aspire to, but frequently fall short of. This is a very powerful post Donna. Looking forward to reading your book (out in September?).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Michelle, unless we’re Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama (and I’m way not!), we’ll often fall fall short, but having the intention is a good start on exercising that courage in the face of incivility. Yep, September, thanks for asking!

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  2. Love this post Donna. Many, many years ago the daughter of friends of my parents got married and I was invited to the wedding. In her speech after dinner, she mentioned something her grandfather told her when she was a little girl: “It’s nice to be important, but it’s so much more important to be nice.” Your post today sparked that memory. I am so looking forward to reading your book.

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  3. I’m with you, Donna. I think it takes enormous strength and courage to still be kind these days. It would be much easier to fall in line with hate and total disregard for human decency. I think that’s why I detest the term snowflake. All of my so-called “snowflake” friends are brave, determined badasses doing great work in the world and standing up to what they believe to be wrong-doing. Here’s to kindness!

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  4. It’s no coincidence that contemporary popular culture (books, movies, TV) is overrun with zombies. In the real — increasingly surreal — world, Trump and others like him are the undead: devoid of warmth, incapable of joy, lacking even a molecule of empathy for others. A person without compassion or empathy must be driven by a bitterly cold, terrifying, ravenous void within.

    Kindness kindles the flame of life, shines a way through the darkness; it fortifies the spirit. By grace, every day, every moment, we do have the choice to be kind. Despite the daily outrage and disappointments, in the face of the resurgent waves of anxiety and grief, choosing kindness means choosing to be fully alive, open and vulnerable, and hopeful. We are reaching out our hands in peace and kindness, saying, it may be scary as hell but you’re not alone; we, the living, we are not alone in the dark. Thank you, my friend, for continuing to shine a light. Love & courage!

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    • Oh, so beautifully stated, Kris! I just happened upon a statement made by Tony Schwartz, the writer who ghosted Trump’s “Art of the Deal” and purportedly knows him better than anyone after that dreadful experience. He said, “Trump genuinely reveres and envies dictators. He believes if he had their absolute power, he wouldn’t feel so empty and persecuted—but he is wrong. Nothing will ever fill his infinite sense of emptiness.” That certainly aligns with the ravenous void you describe. I’ve deliberately avoided watching shows about zombies and undead monsters, but it appears we are all living in one (the ultimate reality show?). Kindness may be the antidote if enough of us claim its power and apply it liberally. Thanks for such a thoughtful and articulate comment, dear friend.

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  5. There is so much ugliness in the world right now and kindness is looked on by some as weak but I agree with you. Not only is it a sign of great strength, it’s a response that will often make mean people crazy… bonus! Thank you for the link to that lovely poem.

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    • Glad you liked the poem, too, Janis. And I love the idea that a kind response may drive the unkind crazy. It makes sense—they’re unfamiliar with it and unprepared for it. One response may be to mock it, but perhaps occasionally kindness might stop them in their tracks and make them think. Thanks!

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  6. Great post. A few months ago when I wrote about being grateful for small things, some people were afraid to look like Pollyanna…it’s funny how kind=weak came about

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    • It is a mystery why kindness has become viewed as weakness by people who don’t understand it. And maybe that’s the answer: they just don’t get it, so they devalue it. It’s probably the same with gratitude—people who never feel it dismiss it as irrelevant.

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  7. Great post on the times. The actions of some may be a reason to reflect on the opinions of others. Either way, the lack of understanding may not be as kind. Keep up the good work.

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  8. Thanks, Donna for this honest and direct post: you are certainly not ‘pulling any punches’! As I travel around on our grand tour of England by train, I am humbled by the amount of people who offer friendly advice, share their lives, or give us a hand with our heavy luggage. I vow to emulate them: kindness certainly makes the world go round. Unkindness threatens to derail it.

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    • Thanks, Carol, for taking the time to read my post while on your grand tour. Your comment reminded me that our everyday interactions with the people around us—whether traveling or in our own home cities—are filled with kindnesses and assistance. But if we just listen to the media and politicians, we will think unkindness and incivility are rampant (and in those quarters, I suppose they are). Glad to hear that you’re finding kindness throughout your travels. I’m looking forward to hearing more about your adventures.


    • I think you’re right. It probably frightens them because it asks them to look honestly at themselves and their motives—and what they see may not match with the image they have tried to cultivate. Thanks for your comment!

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