Fear and Trembling In 2020

“The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear.” (Gandhi)

There are three dimensions of fear, as it relates to kindness.

Extending Kindness

First, fear inhibits us from extending kindness. We fear rejection, we fear being misunderstood, or appearing clumsy, embarrassing or calling attention to ourselves. Simply put, we fear the vulnerability of not knowing how our kindness will play out. It feels safer to do nothing.

A good question to ask if we’re hesitating to extend a kindness is, “Could my kindness here make a positive difference?” Then focus your attention on doing good.

Receiving Kindness

Sometimes, fear gets in the way of our receiving kindness. We may fear being perceived as weak or needy. Perhaps we want to maintain a distance between ourselves and the giver and fear strings may be attached to the proffered kindness. Maybe we fear we don’t deserve the kindness. Receiving can be just as awkward and clumsy as giving. Accepting the kindness of others with grace and appreciation is itself an act of kindness. And it should be a pretty easy one. But it takes practice. Whether you are offered a material gift, assistance, or a compliment, receive it graciously—and gratefully—and savor the kindness.

Perhaps the question to ask is, “What’s the most gracious response here?” We’re never wrong if we offer the best of who we are.

Behaving Unkindly

Fear is at the heart of so many unkind actions. When we feel stupid or inept, or threatened by a new and intimidating experience, we often lash out. When our security or beliefs are tested, or when circumstances challenge us to change our way of thinking, we go on the offensive. We say something rude, we belittle, we behave inconsiderately. Continue reading

Good Riddance, Norman Mailer

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” (Jorge Luis Borges)

Lately, I’ve been purging a lot. No, not the stomach-heaving purge of despair or disgust (though ask me again on November 4), but merely the welcome elimination of excess paper, emails, and detritus surrounding me.

While thus engaged, I came across a wonderful article I first encountered in 2017, “The Man Who Doesn’t Read Women.” This is a meaty article—definitely worth your time and attention—but I will only address one part of it here.

The author, Lorraine Berry, describes a conversation she had with her neurologist while he was treating her for severe migraine headaches by injecting Botox into the muscle next to her eye. Knowing that Berry was a writer, the doctor engaged her in chat about books and authors—he being a voracious reader. During the conversation, she was shocked to hear him admit quite matter-of-factly that he had never read a book written by a woman.

Then he corrected himself to say that oh, yes, he had read one: Charlotte’s Web. 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

The Demise of the Species

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.” (Charles Darwin)

I’ve been thinking about the Darwin Awards a lot lately. As you may know, they are bestowed annually (usually posthumously) on people who do something so unbelievably stupid that they remove themselves from future procreation, thus strengthening—even if only infinitesimally—the future of our species. Quoting the Awards:

 

“In the spirit of Charles Darwin, the Darwin Awards commemorate individuals who protect our gene pool by making the ultimate sacrifice of their own lives. Darwin Award winners eliminate themselves in an extraordinarily idiotic manner, thereby improving our species’ chances of long-term survival.”

Examples of previous Darwin Award winners include the two Texans who lost their lives Continue reading

No More

“At the table of peace, there will be bread and justice.” (Unknown)

All week, I’ve been pondering a post for this blog. I’m tired. I’m discouraged. I’m angry. My usual commentaries on kindness, living through a pandemic, or a government that has utterly failed its responsibilities to its citizens seem inadequate. And even if they weren’t, I’m angry, I’m tired, I’m discouraged.

I read a post this morning from Charlescearl’s Weblog that said what I wish I had the words to say, and what I wish all people will take the time to read. His final line gives me hope…

Why is Atlanta Burning? https://charlesearl.blog/2020/05/29/why-is-atlanta-burning/