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