“The secret of living well is not in having all the answers, but in pursuing unanswerable questions in good company.” (Rachel Naomi Remen, MD)
Since publication of A Year of Living Kindly last fall, I’ve had numerous opportunities to talk with groups about kindness. What an immense privilege! People aren’t shy about sharing their own stories of kindness, and the questions they ask are nearly always wise and perceptive. It’s like that with blogging, too—your comments invite me to see a different perspective, or sometimes they make me think a bit more deeply about my topic. And sometimes you make me laugh when I need it most.
I’ve noticed that often the same question will come up in talks and on the blog at almost the same time. It may just be coincidence, but it may also be triggered by a current event or a high-profile news story.
Recently, one question has surfaced repeatedly. The wording may have been different, but the meaning the same:
“Why should I be kind to unkind people?”
“Isn’t treating a jerk with kindness just rewarding him for being a jerk?”
“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.
“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.
“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.
“When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.” (Jimi Hendrix)
Recently, 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.