“To err on the side of kindness is seldom an error.” (Liz Armbruster)
In the spring of 1991, my mother decided it was time to die. Eight years of thrice-weekly kidney dialysis had taken its toll. Her frailty was compounded by more than a half-century of cigarette smoking and alcohol excess. The final straw was her doctor’s warning that she could no longer live alone. He advised a care facility or moving in with one of her daughters.
Neither option was palatable. Despite being a card-carrying member of the demographic, she frequently said that she couldn’t stand old people. And just as frequently, she vowed never to be a burden to her children. With memories of our somewhat bewildering childhood, we didn’t argue the point. She refused any further dialysis.
“Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.” (L.R. Knost)
Today, September 25, is the official publication date for my book, A Year of Living Kindly. I wouldn’t be writing those words if it weren’t for you. Really. And I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. And offer you cake.
When I started this blog in January 2015, my intention was to explore kindness in both scholarly and experiential ways, and—I hoped—become kinder as a result. I chose to blog, thinking it would keep me accountable. After all, if I had an audience for my intentions, it would be both noticeable and embarrassing if I abandoned my “year of living kindly” around the ides of March.
“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.
“No act of kindness is too small. The gift of kindness may start as a small ripple that over time can turn into a tidal wave affecting the lives of many.” (Kevin Heath)
I was grumpy Monday. I was grumpy and depressed—deeply discouraged by the state of the world, the direction my country is taking, and the incivilities that have become so frequent and commonplace. I was feeling helpless to make any difference toward positive change and also overwhelmed by other things that are happening in my life. It wasn’t a great day.
In the mid-afternoon mail, I received a small envelope from my book publicist’s office. I had requested a supply of her business cards to include when I mailed information out to possible reviewers or others expressing interest in seeing advance copies of A Year of Living Kindly. Ben, the individual who mailed the cards to me, took the time to dash off a short message on a post-it, saying, “Donna, I just wanted to let you know that your book was incredible and inspiring! Thank you for that. ~Ben”
That tiny note changed my day. Suddenly, I felt hopeful. I felt connection. I was touched by Ben’s words. And I was also aware that he could just as easily have mailed me the cards without taking the time to include a note. I would never have known the difference.