Countering Incivility Without Being a Jerk

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

Attribution: donna CameronRecently, I was honored that Elephant Journal published an article I had written about countering the epidemic of incivility in our political discourse. A key point was that politicians and pundits are not going to change unless we stop fueling them. It’s up to us (remember that quaint notion of “we, the people”?) to repair what’s broken and restore civility. We do that by making it clear that we will not tolerate bad behavior.

Because the article included a link to my website, I’ve received a few very thoughtful comments and questions. One particularly struck me. A woman named Sophia asked me how, when we see someone behaving rudely or unkindly, can we confront them without coming across ourselves as condescending or ugly?

This is such an important question and it’s why—even understanding the benefits and importance of kindness—we sometimes still struggle to be kind.

…keep on reading…

What Are We Doing Here?

“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” (Pablo Picasso)

Attribution: Donna CameronOver the last couple of weeks, we’ve been reminded—by their loss—of what a difference one person can make in the world and in the lives of others. While Aretha Franklin and John McCain shared very little in common in their lives or their vocations, they did share a generosity of spirit and passion for something much bigger than themselves. I’ve cried as I watched, read, and listened to eulogies and shared memories of these luminaries—cried for their loss, cried for the fact that what they represent is becoming rarer and rarer in public life, and for the families, friends, and admirers who will feel their loss forever. I’ve also laughed frequently—at the stories and remembrances, the pure joy and celebration that their lives inspired, even in death. I have been reminded of a favorite line from the brief, but exquisite, D.H. Lawrence poem, “When the Ripe Fruit Falls”:

When fulfilled people die
the essential oil of their experience enters
the veins of living space, and adds a glisten
to the atom, to the body of immortal chaos.

With these thoughts in my mind as I read Leonard Pitts’ recent column, “With all due respect, President Trump, what do you want people to say at your own funeral?” I was left with an abiding pity for Donald Trump. Yes, I still dislike the man, despise what he stands for, and despair over the damage he and his accomplices have inflicted on our country and the world. Yet, I pity him, for he will never know the love Aretha Franklin and John McCain knew. He will not die with the peaceful knowledge that he has done his best and given his all. Read Leonard Pitts’ column. It’s perfect. Because even though he’s speaking to Donald Trump, he’s speaking to the rest of us, too.

Lastly, I offer a three-year-old blog post of my own, asking us to think about our own legacy.

America, the Cruel … or the Kind?

“When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.” (Jimi Hendrix)

Attribution: Donna CameronRecently, I was interviewed for an article about my soon-to-be published book, A Year of Living Kindly (yes, it appears I am something of a one-trick pony). One question the interviewer asked me was what I think the biggest misconception is about kindness.

That’s an easy one: the biggest misconception about kindness is that it is weak, that it is soft, bland, and insubstantial. That kind people are pushovers, ineffective, and easily manipulated. That kindness itself is feeble and puny in the face of power or authority.

…keep on reading…

Books as Teachers, Books as Atonement, Books as Lifeline

“I cannot live without books.” (Thomas Jefferson to John Adams)

Many years ago, a friend gave me a paperweight with that Jefferson quote inscribed on it. It has sat on my desk for more than two decades. I suppose it is a bit of exaggeration to say one cannot live without books. Maslow’s hierarchy did not lump books with food, water, oxygen, or shelter. Had they been mentioned at all, books might have been relegated to the levels where belonging or self-actualization reside.

Less poetic, but perhaps more precise would be to say I cannot imagine a life without books.

…keep on reading…

The Vanishing Art of Paying Attention

“Tell me what you pay attention to, and I will tell you who you are.” (Jose Ortega y Gasset)

Attribution: Donna CameronWhat do you pay attention to? I know a woman—an artist—who notices color and texture and light everywhere she goes. And she thinks about capturing it on canvas, or fabric, or even just memory. Another person—a devoted animal lover—has her radar out for dogs: big ones, little ones, quiet ones, yappy ones, puppies . . .  she adores them all and it makes her quite a canine magnet. And then there’s my acquaintance who is always on the lookout for slights, for people who disagree with him, for comments he can interpret as disrespectful or confrontational. With his detector tuned to these encounters, he tends to find offense everywhere. He lives in a perpetual state of raised hackles.

There’s even a world leader who purportedly only pays attention when the news or information he’s viewing is sprinkled generously with his own name.

A couple of posts ago, I wrote about fear as one of the biggest barriers to kindness—both to our extending kindness and our receiving it. In the comments, Janis, of the delightful Retirementally Challenged blog, observed that for her the biggest obstacle to kindness is “not being in the moment,” and thus unaware that kindness may be needed. She notes that opportunities are lost if we fail so see what’s happening around us.

Janis is right. Our own obliviousness is one of the biggest barriers to kindness. If we’re absorbed in our own private world, or our technology, we simply don’t notice that the person right in front of us needs help, or that a child may need comforting, or that a kind word could lift someone’s day. We fail to see when one person goes out of their way to help another. On the receiving end, our obliviousness prevents us from noticing a stranger’s smile, acknowledging someone who held a door for us, or even recognizing our own need for self-compassion.

Since I started thinking about, writing about, and trying to live a life of kindness, I am ever so much more aware of it—of opportunities for me to extend kindness, of kindnesses extended my way, and of kindnesses—big and small—all around me. I still miss a lot, though. I tend to spend a lot of time in my own head, and, as my husband kindly points out, I can be oblivious not just to kindness, but also to clutter, dust, thirsty houseplants, and sometimes speed limits. Paying attention requires practice.

Technology is one of the things that gets in the way of our being attentive to our surroundings and the people around us. According to a 2016 study, most of us spend about two-and-a-half hours on our smartphones daily. Heavy users—the top ten percent of phone users—spend closer to four hours, or one-quarter of their waking time, on their phones. These heavy smartphone users click, tap, or swipe their phones an average of 5,427 times a day, while the rest of us clock in at a mere 2,617 times daily. It would be interesting to find a study that further breaks down phone time into work and non-work usage. Since my own average is probably about five touches a day, and perhaps five minutes—if that—I am clearly not holding up my end of this devil’s bargain.

I recognize that to decry technology is to declare myself a Luddite or at least a very old fogey. I don’t believe I’m either. But I am mindful of something that I tell strategic planning clients with some frequency: Everything we say “yes” to means we must say “no” to something else, so we need to think long and hard about what is most important to us and whether that’s where we’re putting our time, attention, resources, and energy. What are we saying no to as we say yes to a five-inch screen and perpetual connectivity?

There are good reasons to stay connected to our devices, but it’s worth asking occasionally if we are making a conscious choice or simply succumbing to addiction.

What we choose to pay attention to creates the world we live in. If our radar is focused on dogs, we will live in a world of laughing golden labs, cuddly collies, and frolicking puppies. If we look for slights and reasons to be angry, our world will be rife with insult and offense. If we pay attention to gratitude, we will find ourselves surrounded by things to be grateful for. And, if our attention is on kindness, there will be no end to our opportunities to experience or extend kindness.

I believe there are several “secrets” to living a good life. High on that list is the simple—though not necessarily easy—habit of paying attention. It all begins with choosing to be present and choosing what we will pay attention to.

“We become what we love.  Whatever you are giving your time and attention to, day after day, is the kind of person you will eventually become.” (Wayne Muller)