“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.
“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.