Don’t Settle for Nice

“Mean is easy. Mean is lazy. Mean is self-satisfied and slothful. You know what takes effort? Being kind. Being patient. Being respectful.” (Jake Tapper)

[In the six years I’ve been blogging about kindness I’ve sometimes strayed to other topics, but kindness remains my North Star. Usually, I feel confident that kindness will surmount the evil, greed, intolerance, and disregard that threatens the world, but sometimes I am stunned and baffled by the meanness of many of my fellow humans. As we approach the most important election America has ever faced, amidst a global pandemic, I am periodically going to revisit and reexamine some of my earliest thoughts about kindness and explore them in context of today’s circumstances.]

Since the publication of A Year of Living Kindly: Choices That Will Change Your Life and the World Around You, I’ve been blessed to have many opportunities to talk about kindness—at bookstores, libraries, service organizations, conferences, radio shows, and podcasts. The question I am asked most often is, “What’s the difference between kind and nice? Aren’t they the same thing?”

To some, the difference may be wholly semantic, but I believe there is a vast difference, and the times we are currently living in require that we choose kindness.

It’s fairly easy to be nice. Nice is polite. It’s doing what is expected: smiling at the cashier, holding a door, speaking courteously, not offending. Nice is safe. It doesn’t ask me to take any risk or to make a connection. I can be nice and still make judgments about people. I can be nice and still merely tolerate others, with an insincere smile on my face. I can be nice and remain indifferent, not caring if the person I’m interacting with is getting what they need.

But kind asks more of me. Continue reading

Hindsight 2020: How Will Our Children Remember COVID-19?

“If you can control your behavior when everything around you is out of control, you can model for your children a valuable lesson in patience and understanding…and snatch an opportunity to shape character.” (Jane Clayson Johnson)

When you were a child or adolescent, were there momentous historical events that altered your life and shaped who you ultimately became?

For me, it was the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr., and also the war in Vietnam. For my parents, it was the Great Depression and World War II. For other generations, the 9/11 attacks or Hurricane Katrina may have etched permanent impressions.

The noteworthy historical event for today’s children or grandchildren could well be the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ll remember it not just as that year schools closed and we stayed home a lot, but also for the way we as individuals and as a nation responded to adversity.

Will they tell their own children and grandchildren stories of scuffles over toilet paper, of hoarding and profiteering, of finger-pointing at people of different nationalities? Will they recount the politicization of life-saving, common-sense measures? Or will they describe how, even in isolation, people found ways to connect with and support one another? How neighbor checked on neighbor, shared provisions, and made sure that those who were most vulnerable were not overlooked. Continue reading

Where Kindness Meets the Resistance

“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion, against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.” (William Faulkner)

Attribution: Donna CameronI love it when a new idea taps me on the shoulder (or whacks me upside my head!).

Recently, I was reading The Best American Essays of 2019, edited by the always invigorating Rebecca Solnit. Unsurprisingly, a lot of the best essays of 2019 are political in nature. Given the times, it could not be otherwise. I was particularly struck by one short essay, “We Are Not the Resistance,” by Michelle Alexander. It first appeared in the New York Times, so you can read it here. She contends that those of us who oppose Donald Trump and everything his administration stands for are not the resistance. Trump and his ilk are the resistance. It is they who are resisting the march of history—the march toward our nation becoming “a multiracial, multiethnic, multifaith, egalitarian democracy in which every life and every voice truly matters.”

Ms. Alexander further asserts that “the whole of American history can be described as a struggle between those who truly embraced the revolutionary idea of freedom, equality and justice for all and those who resisted.” Continue reading

My 2020 Vision

A year from today, may we look back and say, “We’ve made the world a kinder place … together.”

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions in the traditional sense. I prefer to think about the year ahead and what I hope will be different at its end, and then set some intentions to help bring about that change. That’s how this blog was born five years ago, and ultimately how the book, A Year of Living Kindly, came into being.

This year, as I ponder the year ahead, I think about our planet, our values, and our interactions with one another. I think about the epidemic of incivility now swirling around us, and the pandemic it will likely become in the contentious months ahead.

I want to “be the change,” as Gandhi counseled. To do that, I’m recognizing that I need to step up my kindness. I need to: Continue reading

“A Man of Noble and Good Heart”

“Our children are the living messages we send to a future we will never see… Will we rob them of their destiny? Will we rob them of their dreams? No – we will not do that.” (Elijah Cummings)

In a week that offered a cornucopia of deceit, corruption, disrespect, and disappointment, many of us found hope and reassurance in—of all places—a funeral.

Congressman Elijah Cummings’ death on October 17 stunned and saddened so many Americans. He was a consistent voice for justice, for equality, and for right action. He was also, as Chair of the House Oversight Committee, a key figure in efforts to protect our democracy. And, as so many eulogizers noted, Congressman Cummings was also a relentlessly kind man.

I was brought to tears by former President Barack Obama’s eulogy—a brief, lovely, and quintessentially Obama speech (oh, how I have missed those!). Continue reading