“Kindness is in our power, even when fondness is not.” (Samuel Johnson)
When you wake up on the morning of November 7 and tune in to the full nationwide election results, will you be heartened or dejected? Unless you have a reliable crystal ball, you’re going to have to live with that uncertainty for a few more days. We all are.
But while we wait, there’s one critically important task we can undertake: we can decide how we’re going to respond—win or lose. We need to ask this question now, before we know the outcome, before we know if we are on the winning side or the losing side. It’s unlikely that any of us will see exactly the outcome we hope for in every race, or that anyone will see defeat on every front. But how we respond—as individuals and as a nation—will set the tone for us as we move ahead. In a very real sense, our collective response will either fortify or weaken our democracy.
“I think the deeper you go into questions, the deeper or more interesting the questions get. And I think that’s the job of art.” (Andre Dubus III)
Recently, I was invited to submit a guest article for the SheWrites.com author blog. They suggested that I write about the connection between kindness and writing.
Over the last four years, I’ve explored kindness from every angle I could think of—and some were a bit of a stretch (baseball, jazz, cats). But I hadn’t thought much about kindness and writing, even though they’re two of my favorite things.
I’m pretty happy with the resulting article. Since it wouldn’t be proper to reprint the entire post here, I’m including the first couple of paragraphs and then a link to the full article on the SheWrites site. I hope it resonates for you.
What do writing and kindness have to do with one another? Why not conflate writing and prudence, or kindness and water-skiing? Is there more than just a passing connection between these two wondrous endeavors? Could it be that there’s an important place for kindness in the writer’s life and process?
In my multi-year exploration of kindness, I’ve noticed that some of the principles of living a kind life can also be applied to living the writerly life. There are skills that must be cultivated to extend kindness: learning to pause, learning to stay present and pay attention, withholding judgment, and employing curiosity, to name just a few. These same skills power a good writer. Where would we be without the capacity to wonder why, or notice details, or allow our story to unfold without judging our writing or our characters too quickly? Kindness also requires that we be patient, that we take the time necessary to achieve our desired goals. Writing? Ditto. And kindness asks us to overcome inertia and our own innate laziness to extend ourselves outside our comfort zone. Writing? Yep, that, too.
“Unkind people imagine themselves to be inflicting pain on someone equally unkind.” (Marcel Proust)
Recently, 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.
“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” (Pablo Picasso)
Over 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.
“If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.… Find what’s wrong; don’t ignore it; don’t look the other way. Make it a point to look at it and say to yourself: ‘What can I do to make a difference?’ That’s how you’re going to make my child’s death worthwhile. I’d rather have my child but, by golly, if I got to give her up, then we’re going to make it count.” (Susan Bro, mother of Heather Heyer, killed in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017)
On this one-year anniversary of the white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA, we need to pause and consider where we are, how we got here, and where we want to be—as individuals and as a country. And we need to commit—or recommit—to being activists in whatever ways we can—whether that means marching, running for office, writing letters, writing checks, or even just living our own values fiercely and consistently.