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

Has America Reached Its “Pull By” Date?

“What advantage has the person who will not listen over the one who cannot hear?” (Joyce Rachelle)

Most of the people I know—including myself—consider themselves to be open-minded, fair, and objective. But how true is that . . . really? I fear that for many of us, those sterling qualities have fallen victim to our times.

A new friend recently sent me a link to this clip of Republican strategist Frank Luntz being interviewed by historian Walter Isaacson on Christiane Amanpour’s news show, Amanpour & Co. My friend said it was a fascinating discussion of our current state of toxic politics.

Republican strategist? I asked myself if I really want to listen to a Republican strategist? Was he likely to say anything that wouldn’t piss me off? Aren’t I already pissed off enough? So much for open-mindedness.

But I respect this new friend’s opinion, so I clicked the link and soon was fascinated by a discussion devoid of shouting and name-calling, and offering plenty to ponder. Continue reading

Kindness in the Face of Pure Evil

“There are two ways of exerting one’s strength; one is pushing down, the other is pulling up.” (Booker T. Washington)

Attribution: Donna CameronA friend asked me to comment on how to apply kindness in the wake of the New Zealand shooting. Unspoken in her question may have been the implication that kindness seems awfully puny in the face of pure and undiluted evil.

Sometimes it feels that way.

When something horrific like this happens, we feel shock, sorrow, and anger. We feel bewilderment and a helplessness bordering on hopelessness. And, for many of us, the “Groundhog Day” repetition of mass shootings sickens beyond words. What possible good is kindness when hate is so heavily-armed? Continue reading

There May Be Hope for the World

“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.” (L.R. Knost)

Attribution: Donna CameronI don’t have children. When asked why, I usually respond with a line from my favorite David Mamet movie,  State and Main, “I’ve never seen the point of them.”

Yes, that’s a glib answer, but it has the desired effect: widened eyes and no further comment. Sometimes, the inquisitor takes a step or two back from me. I’m okay with that, too.

It’s not that I don’t like children, but I have never felt the need or desire to have any of my own.

All that being said, I am pinning my hopes for the future on the youth of today. We’ve screwed up the world royally. I hope they can fix things before it’s too late.

Some recent examples that give me hope: Continue reading