A Call for Radical Kindness and Fierce Civility (3rd and final part)

“My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness.” (Maya Angelou)

Attribution: Donna Cameron[In part one, we looked at the epidemic of incivility that surrounds us and promises to get worse in the weeks ahead. We talked about the need for kindness and the courage it takes to be a kind person. In part two, we looked at how to exercise that ferocious kindness in service to the world. In this final part, we look at some of the biggest challenges to our commitment and the pledge we must make daily if we are to change the world. Here’s part three.]


There are people who are deliberately unkind and intentionally provocative. They are fueled by name-calling and inciting conflict. Often, they make outrageous claims—denying the Holocaust, saying Sandy Hook was a hoax, claiming masks only spread COVID-19. Engaging with such people just fuels them. You’re not going to change their minds with reason, data, or facts. Their minds are closed.

Do yourself and the world a favor and don’t engage with them. Don’t argue, don’t debate, and don’t give them a moment of your attention. Withholding interaction is like removing oxygen from a fire. It will sputter out and die. Just as oxygen feeds fire, attention is fuel for bigots, bullies, and fanatics. If enough of us withhold our attention, those people will lose any power they may have. They will wither and be seen only for the pathetic creatures they are.

What about the people I simply cannot avoid?

There are people we can’t escape. They may be family members, a close friend’s irritating spouse, or one of your company’s top clients. If the person is rational and open to civil discourse, see if you can engage thoughtfully, preferably by employing your curiosity:

“Hmmm, that hasn’t been my experience at all. Why do you think that?”

“I wonder how solid that evidence is. Here’s what my research has shown….”

Focus less on changing their views as on understanding them. If it’s clear that you can’t have a respectful conversation, look for a safe subject: “Let’s talk about something else. Did you see the [weather report, latest epic movie, basketball game…]? If you can’t avoid a truly disagreeable person, look for some common ground that you can share whenever you have to be in their company. Puppies are always good, so is vegetable gardening. When all else fails, silence can be golden.

How do I deal with someone whose politics sicken me?

Continue reading

A Call for Radical Kindness and Fierce Civility (Part 2)

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

Attribution: Donna Cameron[In part one, we looked at the epidemic of incivility that surrounds us and promises to get worse in the days leading up to—and following—the November 3rd election. We talked about the courage it takes to be a kind person and how bold and insistent kindness is what the times call for. Today, we’re going to look at how to exercise that ferocious kindness in service to the world. Here’s part two.]


Marcel Proust wisely observed, “Unkind people imagine themselves to be inflicting pain on someone equally unkind.” We reinforce that belief when we treat such people with the same discourtesy they showed us. When we change the dynamic, we may not change that individual, but we offer witnesses a clear choice, and we fortify our own values. In choosing kindness, we are the ones determining the rules of the game.

Extending kindness only to those who are “worthy” is not being our best self. We don’t have to like someone—or even respect them—to be kind to them. We are kind because of who we are, not who they are.

OK, but how do I do that?

Remember the old joke about the tourist in New York City asking how to get to Carnegie Hall? And the answer: Practice, buddy, practice.

Like anything we want to do well, it takes practice. We’re gonna have plenty of opportunities to practice in the coming weeks and months.

Think about a time when someone spoke rudely to you, or belittled another person in your presence. Did your response to them reflect the best of who you are? Now, think about how else you might respond, what you could say that reflects your values and upholds courageous kindness.

Think not only about what you might say, but how you will say it. Your tone of voice. Your facial expression. How you stand to convey your strength and resolve. Then practice doing it, saying it. Experience what it feels like to be strong and kind. Then, when you find yourself in such a situation, you will know how you want to respond and will have the skill and the courage to do it.

Practice saying aloud such phrases as: Continue reading

A Call for Radical Kindness and Fierce Civility (Part 1)

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Attribution: Donna Cameron[Dear friends, at a time when despair and hope alternately pervade my days—and possibly yours, too—I find I am writing to understand, to connect, and to seek solutions. I wrote this article in the hope that it might help those of us who believe fervently in kindness, yet also fear the bleak days ahead. As my anxiety grows, my attention span seems to shrink, so rather than one long blog post, I’m going to be offering three short ones over the next week. Here’s part one.]


A Call for Radical Kindness and Fierce Civility

Another election looms. For months, we’ve been seeing the same distressing behaviors we saw in 2016 and 2018. In the remaining days before November 3, it will only get worse. And after November 3, the divide will remain—deep, rancorous, and corroding—there is no magic outcome that will heal our nation. It’s going to be up to each of us to commit to healing.

Despite all, I still believe that kindness is how we will take back our political and social discourse and counter rampant incivility. Not a meek kindness, or a complacent acquiescence, but a bold insistence on courtesy, consideration, and respect. The more of us who recognize the power of kindness and exercise both the courage to use it and the commitment that we will not settle for less, the sooner we will turn the tide.

As I’ve said before, we’re in the midst of an epidemic of incivility. We see it in political rallies, on our streets and highways, throughout social media . . . and we see it in the ways we talk to one another and about one another. It isn’t pretty . . . and it’s disheartening to even a once-fervent optimist. Continue reading

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