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

Where Kindness Meets the Resistance

“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion, against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.” (William Faulkner)

Attribution: Donna CameronI love it when a new idea taps me on the shoulder (or whacks me upside my head!).

Recently, I was reading The Best American Essays of 2019, edited by the always invigorating Rebecca Solnit. Unsurprisingly, a lot of the best essays of 2019 are political in nature. Given the times, it could not be otherwise. I was particularly struck by one short essay, “We Are Not the Resistance,” by Michelle Alexander. It first appeared in the New York Times, so you can read it here. She contends that those of us who oppose Donald Trump and everything his administration stands for are not the resistance. Trump and his ilk are the resistance. It is they who are resisting the march of history—the march toward our nation becoming “a multiracial, multiethnic, multifaith, egalitarian democracy in which every life and every voice truly matters.”

Ms. Alexander further asserts that “the whole of American history can be described as a struggle between those who truly embraced the revolutionary idea of freedom, equality and justice for all and those who resisted.” Continue reading

Does Everybody Deserve Our Kindness?

“The secret of living well is not in having all the answers, but in pursuing unanswerable questions in good company.” (Rachel Naomi Remen, MD)

Attribution: Donna CameronSince 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?”
  • “Does everybody deserve our kindness?”

Such a provocative question: does everybody deserve our kindness? Continue reading

The Most Important Challenge Facing Us All

“Kindness is in our power, even when fondness is not.” (Samuel Johnson)

Attribution: Donna CameronWhen 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.

If the election doesn’t go your way…

…keep on reading…