What Are We All So Afraid Of?

“Be not afraid.  A kind life, a life of spirit, is fundamentally a life of courage—the courage simply to bring what you have, to bring who you are.” (Wayne Muller)

Attribution: Donna CameronAs I continue to re-examine some of the key ideas that emerged during my initial year of living kindly, I note how often fear emerges as a barrier to kindness—both to our expressing it and to our receiving it. And beyond inhibiting kindness, fear is also very often at the root of unkindness and incivility.

Why is fear such a big factor in keeping us from being our best selves?

Extending Kindness

We’re often hesitant to extend a kindness because we fear the result. Is it the right thing? Will I say the wrong words? Is it enough? Is it too much? Will it be rejected? Will I be rejected? If I offer assistance to someone, will they take offense that I perceived them as incapable? Fear can be paralyzing and our opportunity to express it passes by swiftly.

We also fear embarrassment. Kindness may take us out of our comfort zone; it may ask us to do something new. Perhaps we’ll be clumsy or awkward, or we’ll call attention to ourselves in an unwelcome way. If I stop to hand a couple of dollars to someone in need, will my companion scold me and call me a bleeding heart?

The question we all too often fail to ask is, “Could my kindness here make a positive difference?”

Receiving Kindness

On the receiving end of kindness, we may fear being perceived as weak or needy. Or perhaps we want to maintain a distance between ourselves and the giver; we fear strings may be attached to the proffered kindness. Receiving can be just as awkward and clumsy as giving—maybe we fear we don’t deserve the kindness, or it is out of proportion to our own smaller generosity. Maybe we’ll embarrass the giver, or ourselves. Accepting the kindness of others with grace and appreciation is itself an act of kindness. And a pretty easy one, at that. But it takes practice. Whether you are offered a material gift, assistance, or a compliment, do your best to receive it courteously and savor the kindness.

Perhaps the question to ask here is, “What’s the most gracious response I can offer?”

Behaving Unkindly

When we see unkindness, at its root is often fear. When someone lashes out at another person, it may not be for anything the person has or hasn’t done. They are simply the nearest individual on whom to deflect blame, embarrassment, or anger. Not so long ago at a downtown hotel parking lot, a number of people were in line at the payment kiosk. The person who was trying to pay could not get his credit card to work. He turned it one way, then the next, he inserted it slowly, then quickly. He tried a different card with the same result. People behind him were beginning to get impatient, though they tried not to show it. Finally, someone suggested pushing the button that would summon an attendant. When the attendant arrived, he helped the fellow process his payment in less than 30 seconds. Instead of being grateful, the man just got angrier. He berated the attendant for the machine’s poor quality, and for the exorbitant price of the parking, and finally for the inconvenience he was subjected to. Perhaps he was angered over the inconvenience, but it appeared more likely that he was embarrassed and feared the judgment of people waiting behind him to pay. Were they thinking he was incompetent? After all, none of the people ahead of him had experienced any problem with the machine.

Many of the things we fear are threats to our pride, to the image we have of ourselves. When our pride is threatened, when we fear that others—or even ourselves—will see that we are not as strong, smart, capable, or lovable as we believe ourselves to be, we often strike out or strike back. We act unkindly.

The question to ask here is, “What am I afraid of?”

I think one of the best moments of our lives is when we stop worrying about what other people think of us or how we are being judged. The truth is that most people are far too concerned with themselves to spend much time appraising others. And those who do want to belittle, snicker, and sneer simply aren’t worth worrying about!

Change the Question

When I first wrote about how fear inhibits our kindness, I suggested that the question we often ask ourselves in the face of fear, “What’s the worst that could happen?” is the wrong question to ask. I still believe that’s true. Much better is to ask, “What’s the best that could happen?” Focusing on best enables us to see the potential our kindness holds—to brighten a life, to alter the tone of an encounter, to change the world. We need to remember that kindness has ripples far beyond our awareness. A seemingly small action could trigger others, which trigger still more, and, ultimately, might be the tipping point that transforms the world.

Focusing on best diminishes our fear and also keeps our desired goal front-and-center in our mind. If we focus on worst, our subconscious points toward it. If we focus on best, all our capacities conspire to make that happen. All it takes is practice and confidence that the path of kindness will lead us where we want to go.

The Power of Kindness

Many people still choose to see kindness as a sign of weakness. They erroneously equate it with being wishy-washy or a pushover. If I exhibit kindness, I’ll be inviting others to take advantage of me. Nothing could be further from the truth. Kindness takes strength, it takes resolve and courage, and the willingness to be vulnerable.

When fear threatens to deter our kindness, or to incite unkindness, we need to remember that kindness has the ability and power to vanquish our fears. Then, step past the fear and claim our kindness.

“A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.” (Amelia Earhart)

It Is Not My Intent to Offend Half the World’s Population….

“To belittle, you have to be little” (Khalil Gibran) 

Serena Williams wins her sixth Wimbledon singles trophy, 7/11/2015. By Azilko via Wikimedia Commons

What is it about men? Sometimes I just want to take them by the arm and squeeze it gently while I look into their eyes and say, “Dude, really, get over yourself.” I don’t want to make blanket assumptions or paint all men with the same brush, but I am coming to a conclusion that a world run mostly by males is not working out as well as it might. How about you guys take a few steps back and let women have a go? Or, at the very least, move over, stop man-spreading, and acknowledge that maybe women have something to offer.

I don’t want to offend anyone and I’m not lobbying to make men “less than” (woman all know how that feels). But how about raising women to a place of equality—real equality—not pat-us-on-the-head-and-let-us-into-the-club-if-we-promise-to-be-good “equality”?

There are a lot of wonderful and wise men who read this blog. I love interacting with them. I love reading their blogs. There are a few I treasure as dear and beloved friends, and one with whom I sleep every night. I promise you, I’m not trying to take anything away from you.

And then there’s John McEnroe. Why did John feel it was necessary to weigh in about Serena Williams’ ability and how she would stack up in a match against a male tennis player? Surely, the 58-year-old McEnroe has lived a long and rich enough life that he can find other things to say as he promotes his new memoir and seeks a few more moments in the limelight.

McEnroe, a 7-time Grand Slam champion, declared of Williams, winner of 23 Grand Slams and currently ranked number-one in the world, “If she played the men’s circuit she’d be, like, 700 in the world.”

And, of course (of course!), the player ranked number 701 in the men’s circuit, Dmitry Tursunov, had to weigh in and say, “I would hope that I would win against Serena.”

Both men were quick to qualify that they didn’t want to denigrate Serena’s ability or amazing talent, but women just can’t compete against men. “The reality” is, according to number 701, Tursunov, that “men are stronger in general.”

That may be true. Men may be stronger “in general.” But physical strength isn’t all that’s needed to be a tennis champion. Nor does it justify world dominance. And it doesn’t equate to intelligence, endurance, compassion, complexity, common sense, or a dozen other qualities that people need to navigate their lives effectively and—at the end of it—be able to say with conviction, “I’m leaving the world a better place for having lived.”

Is what McEnroe claimed true? I don’t know and I don’t care. It wasn’t necessary. And it wasn’t kind.

Serena Williams demonstrated some of those other traits of whole-hearted people—including grace—when she responded on Twitter: “Dear John, I adore and respect you but please please keep me out of your statements that are not factually based” and “I’ve never played anyone ranked ‘there’ nor do I have time. Respect me and my privacy as I’m trying to have a baby. Good day sir.”

I realize that a few ill-chosen words by an aging tennis star don’t constitute proof that all men are clueless, or that the world would be in better hands if more world leaders were women. But, really, let’s think about it. And let’s try to do so objectively.

Is there anyone, anyone, who truly believes that 13 aging, rich, white men meeting in secret behind closed doors would—let alone could—craft a health care plan that would be fair to all Americans? Yes, those 13 senators believed in their own omnipotence and innate, “God-given” superior wisdom. It remains to be seen whether there are enough like them in Congress who will continue to assert white, male superiority and pass the bill that will harm millions of Americans who don’t share their power, wealth, or chromosomes.

There was a time when I had more faith in my country and the people who were elected to run it, when I would have said with confidence, “This could never happen.” And I certainly don’t believe that all women possess the qualities that would equip them to lead wisely. But the clock is ticking in a world perilously close to catastrophe. Something needs to change.

John McEnroe is just a reminder of what we’re up against if we want to change the world. Every day, millions of men say things that put women down. Every day, millions of men equate physical strength with power and entitlement. I know it’s not all men, but it’s enough.

As women, even if our physical strength isn’t equal, our intelligence, ability to reason, compassion, judgment, and endurance are. If we continue to step aside for men, if we continue to allow them to get away with saying stupid, hurtful, entitled things without calling them on it, then the world will never change. It could be so much better if instead of fearing a loss of their power, those with the power could see that by sharing it, everyone wins. Think about it.

“We can never elevate ourselves by putting someone else down.” (Donna Cameron)

Kindness Withheld is Kindness Lost Forever

“It is not only for what we do that we are held responsible, but also for what we do not do.” (Moliere)

Attribution: Donna CameronLast week, I had the pleasure of speaking at a conference about kindness in business—its benefits to the workplace, to the bottom-line, and to both business owners and employees. It was a receptive group and we had a lot of fun (well, at least I did!). Afterward, a number of people came up to me to share their stories of kindness—kindnesses extended, kindnesses received, and kindnesses witnessed. There were stories of roadside assistance, found wallets, Starbucks’ gift cards, and neighborly sharing.

I was struck once again by a notion that is both obvious and subtle: Most acts of kindness are easy to do, but they’re also just as easy not to do.

It’s easy to dismiss the idea as either gobbledygook or a statement of the glaringly obvious, but to my simple brain, it’s also somewhat profound.

Nobody’s ever going to know or notice if you don’t stop to assist someone whose car is stuck in the snow. Or if you don’t offer to help someone who’s struggling to carry a heavy load. Or if you don’t stop to chat with the homeless guy and hand him a couple of bucks. Nobody’s likely to comment on its absence if you don’t smile, or if you don’t speak some words of appreciation to the waiter or the cashier. What we don’t do is lost forever and the potential it held to begin never-ending ripples of kindness is lost to the world. Who knows where those ripples might have reached and what difference they might have made?

I wonder if that’s why some people pooh-pooh kindness as feeble and inconsequential. How could anything as simple as smiling, holding a door, or offering a compliment make any difference in a world where countries are on the brink of war, where city streets could erupt in violence at any moment, and where inequality and mistrust divide us every which way?

I am reminded of the many times in my life when I was buoyed by a kind word or inspired to be a better me after witnessing the kindness of others. I can also recall times when I held back—afraid of how my words might be received, or reluctant to draw attention to myself. The ease of not doing or not saying offered me a safe haven…but at what cost?

Even this post, describing the simplicity of kindness and the allure of inertia, offers a similar choice. No one would ever know if I hit delete, fearful that the inanity of the obvious will be received with a roll of the eyes or a sigh of impatience. But, if I put it out there, maybe one person (maybe me!) will choose to extend a kindness they might otherwise have allowed to slip away. And who knows where that could lead?

Only one way to find out….

“If you want to be a rebel, be kind.” (Pancho Ramos Stierle)

 

 

Resurrecting “The Pusher”

Attribution: Donna CameronEarlier this week, a post in The Green Study, one of the most intelligent and articulate—also compelling—blogs in the ‘sphere, triggered in me a spark of a long-forgotten poem. I searched for it on the Internet and was surprised to see that it’s not easy to find—anywhere. I finally found it buried in a couple of old documents from the ‘70s. One attributed the poem to Barry Stevens; another printed it with no attribution. Elsewhere, I found a reference to the poem, saying that it was written by Peter Goblen and first appeared in Barry Stevens’ 1970 counterculture book, Don’t Push the River (it flows by itself). I think this latter attribution is correct. I considered the poem wise when I was in college, and still do.

It troubled me that the poem is virtually lost to us and I wanted to re-introduce it to intelligent people who might appreciate it. I originally viewed it only as a warning about religious extremism, but I see today that it speaks to religious, political, ideological, and even lifestyle zealotry. Maybe you’ll find it thought-provoking, too.

The Pusher

Beware the seeker of disciples
the missionary
the pusher
all proselytizing men
all who claim that they have found
the path to heaven.

For the sound of their words
is the silence of their doubts.

The allegory of your conversion
sustains them through their uncertainty.

Persuading you, they struggle
to persuade themselves.

They need you
as they say you need them:
there is a symmetry they do not mention
in their sermon
or in the meeting
near the secret door.

As you suspect each one of them
be wary also of these words,
for I, dissuading you,
obtain new evidence
that there is no shortcut,
no path at all,
no destination.

~Peter Goblen

In Gratitude for Friends and Friendship

“Courage. Kindness. Friendship. Character. These are the qualities that define us as human beings, and propel us, on occasion, to greatness.” (R.J. Palacio)

Attribution: Donna CameronI wrote last week about querencia, that physical or psychological place of refuge where each of us finds our strength, safety and sanctuary. It’s where we can be our most authentic self. I noted that in the days ahead it was going to be important for each of us to know where our own querencia is and to have it as our refuge and place of refueling. Over these past few days, I’ve also seen that querencia comes in another important form: friends.

Even when it feels like we’re alone, or when dismay threatens to choke all hope, friends appear to make us realize we’re not alone—we’ll get through this together. Friends are found in the usual ways: the people we’ve known for years whom we can call, or get together with for lunch or coffee, or chat with at the mailbox. We share our pain and bewilderment, we explore ideas, and we find solace in laughter. There are also what I call “21st century friendships.” No less real, these are people across great distances, people we may never even have seen in-person and couldn’t pick out of a line-up, but they are friends just the same. We’ve met them through online classes, social media, and blogs.

In recent days, friends of both types have been gold. They called, emailed, or texted at just the right moment—a thoughtful image, a righteous quote, or a joke to put it all in perspective. They were querencia.

Attribution: Donna CameronI found lavish querencia yesterday walking with my sister-in-law and an amazing 130,000 people across the streets and hills of Seattle. The march—triple the number that had been anticipated—was peaceful, joyous, and immensely energizing. Ordinarily, I feel overwhelmed and grumpy in huge crowds—this was just the opposite. There was always plenty of room for everyone, and on the faces of my fellow marchers smiles, laughter and hope abounded. Friends who were not able to march had sent messages of solidarity and were with us in spirit, providing strength and resolve. The message we sent was one of great hope and greater determination. Anyone who fails to see and hear it is delusional.

This blogging community has also certainly been a place of querencia for me in recent weeks and days. So many people in this community have shared their grief, their wisdom, their sources of inspiration, and their humor (always needed and always appreciated!).

Thank you to so many friends who offered—and continue to offer—strength and support. Thank you for being querencia.

“We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over.” (Ray Bradbury)

Attribution: Donna CameronAttribution: Donna Cameron

Attribution: donna Cameron

Where Is Your Querencia?

“There is a way to live that makes the angels cry out in rapture. There is a way to live that makes each cell a star.” (from “Clearing,” Morgan Farley)

Attribution: Donna Cameron

Harmony Hill

In recent days, I’ve seen a number of writers and bloggers declare that they chose a single word to be their theme or focal point for 2017. In place of traditional resolutions, they selected words like joy, trust, focus, even kindness, to be their inspiration for the year. I started thinking about what word I might choose. Of course, kindness is my raison d’etre. It’s more than just a word—to me it’s a way of living. It’s at the heart of everything. I looked for another word that might speak to the journey ahead.

The one that sprang to mind is a word I encountered some years ago, in one of my favorite books, Kitchen Table Wisdom. Author Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, introduced the concept of querencia, It is a word that has many meanings—none of them especially clear, and that very imprecision contributes to its allure.

Dr. Remen describes how her cat, Charles, finds querencia in certain favorite places in the house they share—behind the drapes, under the stairs, even in one particular spot in plain sight on the living room rug. There, Charles is fearless, he is calm and relaxed. He casts off his usual wariness and basks in serenity. Remen herself finds querencia walking through Muir Woods in early morning before the tourists arrive. She also describes how when the cancer patients she works with find their querencia it begets in them a new strength and peace.

What is this marvelous and magical place?

Most commonly, querencia is used to describe the place in a bull ring (“corrida”) where the bull goes to feel safe and to gather his strength. For each bull it is a different place, so it is the job of the matador to recognize where querencia is for each bull, and keep him out of that spot. I find the idea of bull-fighting abhorrent, but the concept of finding our individual place of safety and sanctuary—while a force tries to keep us away from it—that is compelling … and certainly timely.

As I researched the word online, I found other definitions for querencia:

From Wikipedia: In Spanish, querencia describes a place where one feels safe, a place from which one’s strength of character is drawn, a place where one feels at home.

John Jeremiah Sullivan defines querencia as “an untranslatable Spanish word that means something like ‘the place where you are your most authentic self’.”

Other definitions:

  • A place in which we know exactly who we are; the place from which we speak our deepest beliefs
  • A safe haven, lair, or sanctuary

If I were a teacher, I would introduce my students to this word. I would put it on spelling tests and ask students to write papers describing their querencia. If I were a parent, I would talk to my child about querencia and encourage them to become familiar with their own place of safety and strength.

How wonderful it would have been at age 8 or 18 to know such a word, to know that there is a place of security and refuge that is ours alone, a place to go to gather strength and be exactly who we are, with no pressure to conform to norms or expectations imposed by others. No matter how idyllic one’s childhood may be, there are always times when we look for safe haven, or when we seek the confidence to speak from the depths of our heart, or when we recognize the place where we come face-to-face with our most authentic self and know that we have found something precious.

Querencia can be a physical place: at the foot of a favorite tree, a cozy window seat, a forest path. Or it can be a place inside us where we breathe into our own strength and feel our own certainty, a certainty that we don’t need to share with anyone else or proselytize to others to convince ourselves. Querencia might be the sense of transport we feel when we read a book, knowing as we do so that it is changing our life. And it might be that sense of oneness with nature that occurs when a place takes our breath away and replaces it—if only for an instant—with its own essence. Or it might be what we feel when we listen to a symphony by Sibelius. For each of us it will be different.

There are places I go to for querencia: the deck of our cabin facing Mt. Pilchuck and the Cascade Range, the labyrinth I built a few summers ago and walk every chance I get, certain books or passages from books that resonate to the thrum of my heart. In my memory, I go to a tiny, secluded cove near a condo my husband and I stayed in years ago on the island of St. John. It was a place of perfect peace, warm water, and star-studded night skies.

As I get older and shed some of the excesses from my life, I see that my inner querencia is much less elusive than it once was. I have cleared a space for it. That matador whose job it has been to keep me away from my querencia has also become less vigilant—perhaps she, too, recognizes the importance of having that place of personal sanctuary.

Something tells me querencia will be a much-needed refuge for many of us in the coming year. It will be a place to retreat to when we see and hear things that denigrate our values, when we are worn down by the effort of standing up to injustice, and when we need to replenish our souls in order to continue standing up.

I didn’t know the word as a child, but I know it now, and I think it’s a fine word to be my companion for 2017. Feel free to adopt it as your own. There is querencia for each of us. Where’s yours?

“Within you there is a stillness and sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.” (Hermann Hesse)

Looking Forward: Will Kindness Rally in 2017?

“If you ask me what I came to this world to do, I will tell you: I came to live out loud.” (Emile Zola)

Attribution: Donna CameronI try always to spend some time in contemplation at the end of each year. I’m not big on holiday celebrations, decorations, or entertaining, but I like to use that time to find my quiet center and think about the year that is coming to a close, as well as to set intentions for the year ahead.

I’ve probably said enough about 2016, the year of the bully, the year we saw the phrase “anything is possible” come to mean “welcome to the apocalypse.” I will only say that kindness took quite a hit. But it’s not down and it’s not out. That brings me to the new year.

As I look forward to 2017, I’m noticing a complexity to my intentions. It seems like it is not so much setting goals as managing polarities—trying to find the right balance between seemingly opposite, conflicting objectives.

Kindness vs. Confrontation:

I want to be kind. I also want to stand up to injustice and bigotry with all my strength and with my full voice. These two things need not be in conflict, but sometimes it is hard to be kind when face-to-face with deliberate incivility, prejudice, and disregard for the truth. I struggle with the challenge of remaining kind while also standing up to lies and bigotry. I remind myself to call out the behavior not the person, but there are people whose behaviors speak so loudly of who they are that it is hard to separate the two. And maybe sometimes we can’t…and shouldn’t. I will be ready. I will practice standing up to bigotry without expressing similar intolerance. I will think now about what I will say if I see someone being harassed because they are a minority, or a member of the LGBTQ community, or differently-abled—be it on a plane, in a store, or online. I will not be silent.

Isolation vs. Activism:

I want to withdraw into a place where the gloom is not so constant, where I can sometimes forget for a few hours that values like honesty, integrity, and equality have been kicked to the curb. I want to lick my wounds and take care of myself and the people I love. At the same time, more than ever I want to speak out, to march, to use whatever meager talents I have to stand for what I believe to be right. I recognize that self-care must be a priority if I am to be in this fight for the long-haul, and if I am to avoid becoming perpetually angry and a hardened cynic. As something of an introvert, I know that for me self-care means residing in quiet places where I can replenish my spirit and reconnect with my deepest values. When refueled, I can cluster with like-minded people, draw strength from them, and let them draw strength from me. I will not be silent.

Optimism vs. Pessimism:

I want to be an optimist; that is my default setting (while my husband has firmly claimed the opposite position). But I also know that mindless optimism is dangerous. I have to be realistic and cognizant to the fact that there are people in positions of power who are counting on the obliviousness and optimism of their foes. If I deny the damage they can do and simply trust that “all will be well,” their greed, bigotry, and deceit will grow and take a deeper hold. So, I’m going to try for what I’m calling optimistic realism: I anticipate that the year ahead is going to introduce us to rings of hell we never imagined, and I also recognize that those of us standing up to prejudice and the misuse of power will ultimately triumph over those destructive forces by our sheer numbers and our unwavering commitment. I will not be silent.

What Remains Sacred

Even with these apparent polarities to be managed, there are still some things that brook no compromise, that stand alone as values to be upheld—no matter what:

Truth is one such absolute. Sadly, the biggest casualty of 2016 was the truth. We have seen that there are people for whom the truth is only important when it serves their interests, and who will trample on it if it gets in their way. History has shown us what happens when people allow truth to be selective and manipulated. Truth may not always be pretty, and it may not be soothing, but we must face it and act accordingly. We must not be silent.

Integrity, like truth, is not conditional. We either act with integrity or we don’t. Most of us know the difference. Those who don’t need to be enlightened and if they still disregard integrity, they need to be removed from power. We must not be silent.

Justice and equality. These two go together. There is no justice if standards apply differently depending on the ethnicity, gender, or status of the individuals. There are no groups that are inherently superior, none that are intrinsically entitled. Having said that, there may be times when justice and equality dictate that we offer an advantage to make up for decades of disadvantage. Someone once said, “At the table of peace there will be bread and justice.” That table has no place for those who measure success by wealth and who equate affluence with power. We must not be silent.

Since launching this blog, I’ve started and ended each year with one particular quote from Neil Gaiman. This year, it’s still Neil Gaiman, but it’s a different quote:

Be kind to yourself in the year ahead. Remember to forgive yourself, and to forgive others. It’s too easy to be outraged these days, so much harder to change things, to reach out, to understand. Try to make your time matter: minutes and hours and days and weeks can blow away like dead leaves, with nothing to show but time you spent not quite ever doing things, or time you spent waiting to begin. Meet new people and talk to them. Make new things and show them to people who might enjoy them. Hug too much. Smile too much. And, when you can, love.

Peace and thanks to all of you, my friends. Sharing with you the joys, sadnesses, challenges, and disappointments of 2016 has strengthened me and fed my resolve. I feel blessed to be part of a warm and embracing community. My wish for you—for all of us—in the coming year is for health, happiness, laughter, strength, voice, community, and, of course, kindness.

Is It All a Crock?

“The times it’s most important to be kind are also when it’s hardest to be kind.” (Donna Cameron)

Attribution: Donna CameronI don’t want to write this blog post. I’m tired. I’m grumpy. I’m sick of the election and sick of talking or thinking about it. Like a petulant child, I demand a do-over.

Most times, I tend to be an annoyingly optimistic person, but it’s been hard to summon any of that buoyant nature. It’s just easier to snarl.

You’re probably tired, too, of passionate blog posts about the election and how the world is likely to disintegrate. A couple of my friends who follow this blog were Trump supporters. I rather suspect they are no longer following. That makes me sad. But it illustrates the polarization we saw on both sides throughout the election. Most of us (myself included) only wanted to hear or read what supported our own personal biases and beliefs. That’s probably why so many of us were stunned by the election results. The very wise Michelle at The Green Study, wrote an excellent post about becoming a more educated citizen by looking for new—and more objective—sources for news and information. I recommend it, as well as her many other thoughtful messages.

I’ve been delaying getting to the actual point of my post, which is:

What scares me most—even more than the election of someone I can never respect, whose values, words, and behaviors appall me—is the thought that maybe this is all a crock.

This kindness business. A crock.

A couple of days after the election my seriously depressed husband said something to the effect: “You’ve got it all wrong. Kindness doesn’t work. Hate won the election. Hate and lies and bigotry. Kindness can’t stand up to those things. People who claim to be moral were willing to overlook sexual offenses, lying, bullying, bigotry, and a petty, revenge mentality. Morality is clearly situational when self-interest is involved. Kindness doesn’t work.”

This kindness business. A crock?

Since the election, the news—which I am trying to avoid—has reported countless incidents of hate across the nation: Muslim women being harassed and having their hijabs torn off … gay and transgender people attacked … swastikas and “KKK” scrawled in public areas … and so many more. And these by the people who WON the election. The winning candidate purports to disavow these actions (“Please stop,” he says), but his whole campaign deliberately fostered this sort of hate and fear. It’s not something that can be turned off like a faucet.

But I digress again. I’m trying to avoid my central question: Is kindness a crock? Is my husband right that it doesn’t work and the election proves it?

My answer is shaky. It’s doleful. But also mostly determined. No, kindness isn’t a crock. Kindness does work. We may not be able to see it now, but it’s there, it’s powerful, and ultimately it will prevail. If it doesn’t, then the world becomes a dark and doomed place and I’m not willing to accept that.

The well’s a bit dry now, but it will continue to fill up—from below—from the depths where human goodness resides and always will. It will fill up as we hear more stories like: the good people of Tucson who replaced messages of hatred toward a mosque with ones of love … or the people who painted over the swastikas and hate messages … or those who stood up to the bullies who were harassing others for being unlike themselves.

Kindness has to counter the fear that is at the heart of hate and anger. And we must always remember that kindness is not weak (that’s what they’re counting on!). Kindness is a strength—a superpower—and it’s one that each of us has at our command. It’s going to take time and it will take an army—a kindness army.

Like any superpower, kindness is most effective when employed with other weapons of mass construction: activism, reason, political savvy, knowledge, strategy, determination, solidarity, and an unwillingness to back down or stay silent in the face of injustice, lies, or incivility.

As long as we believe in kindness and continue to act on our belief—even despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary—it will ultimately prevail.

To believe otherwise makes it just too hard to get up in the morning. What do you think? Is kindness a crock?

“If a person seems wicked, do not cast him away. Awaken him with your words, elevate him with your deeds, repay his injury with your kindness. Do not cast him away; cast away his wickedness.” (Lao Tzu)

 

 

This Is How It’s Done

I know a lot of people are sharing these historic messages today. Let me add my voice to the crowd. It’s through gracious acts like these that kindness and civility will be restored after this acrimonious (and seemingly endless) election season. It’s also how we protect our precious democracy:

President George H. W. Bush’s letter to President Bill Clinton:george-bush-letter-to-bill-clinton

Al Gore’s concession speech to George W. Bush:

Vice President Al Gore Concession Speech December 13, 2000

Good evening. Just moments ago, I spoke with George W. Bush and congratulated him on becoming the 43rd president of the United States — and I promised him that I wouldn’t call him back this time.

I offered to meet with him as soon as possible so that we can start to heal the divisions of the campaign and the contest through which we just passed.

Almost a century and a half ago, Senator Stephen Douglas told Abraham Lincoln, who had just defeated him for the presidency, “Partisan feeling must yield to patriotism. I’m with you, Mr. President, and God bless you.”

Well, in that same spirit, I say to President-elect Bush that what remains of partisan rancor must now be put aside, and may God bless his stewardship of this country.

Neither he nor I anticipated this long and difficult road. Certainly neither of us wanted it to happen. Yet it came, and now it has ended, resolved, as it must be resolved, through the honored institutions of our democracy.

Over the library of one of our great law schools is inscribed the motto, “Not under man but under God and law.” That’s the ruling principle of American freedom, the source of our democratic liberties. I’ve tried to make it my guide throughout this contest as it has guided America’s deliberations of all the complex issues of the past five weeks.

Now the U.S. Supreme Court has spoken. Let there be no doubt, while I strongly disagree with the court’s decision, I accept it. I accept the finality of this outcome which will be ratified next Monday in the Electoral College. And tonight, for the sake of our unity of the people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession.

I also accept my responsibility, which I will discharge unconditionally, to honor the new president elect and do everything possible to help him bring Americans together in fulfillment of the great vision that our Declaration of Independence defines and that our Constitution affirms and defends.

Let me say how grateful I am to all those who supported me and supported the cause for which we have fought. Tipper and I feel a deep gratitude to Joe and Hadassah Lieberman who brought passion and high purpose to our partnership and opened new doors, not just for our campaign but for our country.

This has been an extraordinary election. But in one of God’s unforeseen paths, this belatedly broken impasse can point us all to a new common ground, for its very closeness can serve to remind us that we are one people with a shared history and a shared destiny.

Indeed, that history gives us many examples of contests as hotly debated, as fiercely fought, with their own challenges to the popular will.

Other disputes have dragged on for weeks before reaching resolution. And each time, both the victor and the vanquished have accepted the result peacefully and in the spirit of reconciliation.

So let it be with us. I know that many of my supporters are disappointed. I am too. But our disappointment must be overcome by our love of country.

And I say to our fellow members of the world community, let no one see this contest as a sign of American weakness. The strength of American democracy is shown most clearly through the difficulties it can overcome.

Some have expressed concern that the unusual nature of this election might hamper the next president in the conduct of his office. I do not believe it need be so.

President-elect Bush inherits a nation whose citizens will be ready to assist him in the conduct of his large responsibilities.

I personally will be at his disposal, and I call on all Americans–I particularly urge all who stood with us to unite behind our next president. This is America. Just as we fight hard when the stakes are high, we close ranks and come together when the contest is done.

And while there will be time enough to debate our continuing differences, now is the time to recognize that that which unites us is greater than that which divides us.

While we yet hold and do not yield our opposing beliefs, there is a higher duty than the one we owe to political party. This is America and we put country before party. We will stand together behind our new president.

As for what I’ll do next, I don’t know the answer to that one yet. Like many of you, I’m looking forward to spending the holidays with family and old friends. I know I’ll spend time in Tennessee and mend some fences, literally and figuratively.

Some have asked whether I have any regrets and I do have one regret: that I didn’t get the chance to stay and fight for the American people over the next four years, especially for those who need burdens lifted and barriers removed, especially for those who feel their voices have not been heard. I heard you and I will not forget.

I’ve seen America in this campaign and I like what I see. It’s worth fighting for and that’s a fight I’ll never stop.

As for the battle that ends tonight, I do believe as my father once said, that no matter how hard the loss, defeat might serve as well as victory to shape the soul and let the glory out.

So for me this campaign ends as it began: with the love of Tipper and our family; with faith in God and in the country I have been so proud to serve, from Vietnam to the vice presidency; and with gratitude to our truly tireless campaign staff and volunteers, including all those who worked so hard in Florida for the last 36 days.

Now the political struggle is over and we turn again to the unending struggle for the common good of all Americans and for those multitudes around the world who look to us for leadership in the cause of freedom.

In the words of our great hymn, “America, America”’: “Let us crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.”’

And now, my friends, in a phrase I once addressed to others, it’s time for me to go.


That’s how it’s done….

Where Will It End?

“I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go.” (Rachel Joy Scott [1981-1999], student, first victim of the Columbine High School massacre)

Even to me, kindness sometimes seems puny and powerless against the relentless bigotry, hatred, and anger that surround us. I believe with my whole heart that kindness will eventually triumph, but even with my whole heart thus convinced, I feel it shatter after so many senseless deaths—those of the last week and the cumulative violence here in America and worldwide.

It’s making some of us numb, while at the same time arousing even more anger in others. We have become vastly polarized—politics, ideology, culture, race, religion. The diversity that makes us so robust, so richly varied, and, yes, so strong, is also our Achilles’ heel. Where. Will. It. End?

This week, Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia and renowned civil rights leader, said, “It doesn’t matter whether black or white, Latino, Asian-American or Native American; we are one family living in one house. We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters. If not, we will perish as fools. We have too many guns. There has been too much violence. And we must act.”

“Perish as fools.” Is that to be our fate? Sometimes it feels like it.

Fear is at the heart of so much of this violence: fear of people who look different or think differently, fear of losing what one has or of never having what one wants, fear of being disrespected, fear of being wrong, fear of appearing weak. What would happen if we could put aside our fears?

Each horrific act we’ve witnessed has incited more hatred and violence, but each has also spurred countless acts of kindness. We must multiply those kindnesses, we must share them and savor them. When I become discouraged, and when puny kindness seems no match for ever-growing anger and hate, I will remember the courage of people who stand up to aggression and violence armed only with kindness, and I will try to emulate them. We must always remember them…lest we perish as fools.

Tiananmen Square, 1989

Tiananmen Square, 1989. Source: Wikipedia, photographer: Jeff Widener, Associated Press

“The simplest acts of kindness are by far more powerful than a thousand heads bowing in prayer.” (Mahatma Gandhi)