“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

Taking the Long View

“Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.” (Albert Camus)

Attribution: Donna CameronIt’s time for a light-hearted blog post, I told myself. I’ve been dreadfully serious lately—blogging about politics, corruption, and evil (which may actually be one-in-the-same). Blogging about injustice, inequality, and incivility. How about some sunny, end-of-summer froth? I need it, and so, probably, do you.

Unfortunately, my blogging muse, Bessie, had other ideas. She kept sending me clips and quotes of politicians loudly demonstrating their incivility and idiocy. Or articles about celebrity excesses that mock my belief that we should choose to live simply so others may simply live.

Finally, I conceded to Bessie that my clever concoction of comedy (and alliteration) could be postponed (but not too long, please!). I waited to see what the old girl would send. Bess delivered through a delicious luncheon conversation with my friend, Kris, and a Washington Post article entitled “Caring About Tomorrow,” by Jamil Zaki, Stanford professor of Psychology and director of the University’s Social Neuroscience Laboratory. Continue reading

Does Everybody Deserve Our Kindness?

“The secret of living well is not in having all the answers, but in pursuing unanswerable questions in good company.” (Rachel Naomi Remen, MD)

Attribution: Donna CameronSince publication of A Year of Living Kindly last fall, I’ve had numerous opportunities to talk with groups about kindness. What an immense privilege! People aren’t shy about sharing their own stories of kindness, and the questions they ask are nearly always wise and perceptive. It’s like that with blogging, too—your comments invite me to see a different perspective, or sometimes they make me think a bit more deeply about my topic. And sometimes you make me laugh when I need it most.

I’ve noticed that often the same question will come up in talks and on the blog at almost the same time. It may just be coincidence, but it may also be triggered by a current event or a high-profile news story.

Recently, one question has surfaced repeatedly. The wording may have been different, but the meaning the same:

  • “Why should I be kind to unkind people?”
  • “Isn’t treating a jerk with kindness just rewarding him for being a jerk?”
  • “Does everybody deserve our kindness?”

Such a provocative question: does everybody deserve our kindness? Continue reading

What Keeps Us from Being Kind?

“What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded … sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.” (George Saunders)

I’ve had a lot of opportunities over the last year to talk with groups about kindness. One of the questions I’m often asked is, “Why is it so hard? . . . . Why is something obviously desirable and seemingly easy sometimes so difficult to actually do?”

I generally respond by describing the typical barriers to our kindness, the first of which is fear. And fear comes in many flavors: Fear of having our kindness rejected or misunderstood, fear of doing it wrong, fear of drawing attention to ourselves and causing embarrassment. Beyond fear, we may not know the right thing to do, or we claim not to have time, or we’re often simply oblivious.

Our brains can find any number of reasons for not doing something that may cross our minds as an impulse or notion. Continue reading

When Kind Meets Nasty

“Unkind people imagine themselves to be inflicting pain on someone equally unkind.” (Marcel Proust)

Attribution: Donna CameronHave you ever come into contact with someone who is just . . . nasty? Rude, insensitive, unpleasant, maybe even a bully? I suspect we all have.

The first thing to ask when we encounter such people is whether “offensive” is their default setting, or if maybe they are—like Judith Viorst’s Alexander—having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

If it appears that the latter is the case, the kind response might be to offer some empathy. “It looks like you’re having a tough day. Can I help?” Or even just silently give them the benefit of the doubt—she must be struggling with some challenges right now. I know this isn’t who she really is. Sometimes these acknowledgements—offered without responding in the same tone or attitude of the offender—will give them the opportunity to pause and look at their behavior, and sometimes even alter it or apologize for it.

But if you’ve had similar encounters with this person before and know them to be perpetually unpleasant, angry, and aggressive, giving them a pass is less than satisfying. Sometimes it feels like we’re letting mean win. So, what’s the best strategy for those inevitable encounters with thoroughly odious people? Continue reading