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

2020 Mid-Year Report Card

Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” (Maya Angelou)

We’re halfway through what will undoubtedly be one of the most significant years of our lifetime. It’s certainly not the year anyone was expecting. This seems like a good time to engage in a bit of introspection and self-evaluation, a “report card,” if you will.

Tom Bodett once said, “The difference between school and life? In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.”

What lessons have we learned over these last six months? How have we been tested? Individually and collectively, are we passing, or has our failure been illuminated? Let’s take a few moments to think about the classes we’ve all been enrolled in, and how capably we’ve faced the tests they’ve put before us.

Our first mandatory subject came to us in March, Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced Coronavirus. Try to imagine what it would have been like if, in high school, you had progressed directly from freshman algebra into advanced calculus. That’s pretty much what happened about four months ago. But, instead of suddenly facing differential equations, multilinear functions, and finite-dimensional vector spaces, you are tasked with navigating a world in which “normal” has been replaced by invisible hazards, ceaseless anxiety, and a rapidly-spreading pandemic.

Then, in May, a new class was added, 21st Century American History. This one has a twist: it’s history in the making, and we are more than mere students and observers—we are the history-makers. The curriculum for those of us with white skin and white privilege is to look around and look within and assess whether as a country and as individuals, we are the best we can be. Many of us took the pretest and saw that we’ve been failing for a long time, in ways both obvious and subtle. The pledge of liberty and justice for all is, at best, provisional. It’s time to do some remedial and hard work. Continue reading

Querencia and Friluftsliv: Two Concepts to Guide Us Through a Pandemic

“When you recover or discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life.” (Jean Shinoda Bolen)

It’s been two months since the World Health Organization officially declared the coronavirus to be a worldwide pandemic. By now, disbelief has given way to acceptance and adaptation for most of us. Depending on where you live you may be living under a quarantine or you may be cautiously venturing back into a limited social environment.

Most of us have accepted that our world has changed and the post-pandemic atmosphere is likely to be very different. Just what those differences will be remain a mystery, but it’s a sure bet that some will be devastating and some will be hopeful. That uncertainty is creating a lot of apprehension. I’m finding two concepts that go a long way toward easing COVID-19 anxiety.

I first wrote about querencia back in early 2017. It’s a concept that has become abundantly relevant in these days of fear, isolation, and uncertainty. Continue reading

Back Off, Marie Kondo

The life-changing magic of NOT tidying up…

Bear hunting in our neighborhood

I have mild hoarding tendencies—nothing serious, but sometimes I find it difficult to discard items for which there may be some future use. My biggest problem is paper—articles I’ve saved for future reference, notes and handouts from conferences, and scraps on which I’ve scribbled brilliant, budding ideas that I hope will grow into mature, wise, and literate prose. One of my goals during this period of enforced isolation is to tackle the piles and files and miles of paper. I try not to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task, but to devote a certain amount of time each day to purging, sorting, and deciding what stays (and where!) and what goes.

I am frequently reminded of Marie Kondo’s best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I read it when it first came out and was inspired to . . . do very little.

Marie and I would not be friends. While I am sure she is a lovely woman, “tidying up” is not something I aspire to. Continue reading