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

When Kind Meets Nasty

“Unkind people imagine themselves to be inflicting pain on someone equally unkind.” (Marcel Proust)

Attribution: Donna CameronHave you ever come into contact with someone who is just . . . nasty? Rude, insensitive, unpleasant, maybe even a bully? I suspect we all have.

The first thing to ask when we encounter such people is whether “offensive” is their default setting, or if maybe they are—like Judith Viorst’s Alexander—having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

If it appears that the latter is the case, the kind response might be to offer some empathy. “It looks like you’re having a tough day. Can I help?” Or even just silently give them the benefit of the doubt—she must be struggling with some challenges right now. I know this isn’t who she really is. Sometimes these acknowledgements—offered without responding in the same tone or attitude of the offender—will give them the opportunity to pause and look at their behavior, and sometimes even alter it or apologize for it.

But if you’ve had similar encounters with this person before and know them to be perpetually unpleasant, angry, and aggressive, giving them a pass is less than satisfying. Sometimes it feels like we’re letting mean win. So, what’s the best strategy for those inevitable encounters with thoroughly odious people? Continue reading

Call Me Bewildered

“When I do good, I feel good, and when I do bad, I feel bad, and that’s my religion.” (Abraham Lincoln)

Attribution: Donna CameronI just don’t get it, and I’m beginning to suspect I never will. What exactly is it that trolls derive from trolling?

I read a news story from KIRO Radio about a local businessman, Dwayne Clark, who paid off the layaway costs at Walmart for 110 local families. It’s something a few celebrities have done this holiday season and it’s undoubtedly been a huge gift to struggling families (I think it’s a safe bet that comfortable, affluent folks aren’t doing a lot of layaway shopping at Walmart).

In the article, the author, Gee Scott, described how inspired he was by Clark’s generosity, and also how dismayed he was to see that many people weighed in to criticize the man. They said he was showing off, it was a publicity stunt, just another rich guy showing how rich he is…. However, the author happened to know Clark personally and testified to his many generous actions and his genuine desire to serve and support the community. He noted that Mr. Clark had grown up in a poor household with a single mom who struggled to put gifts on layaway.

…keep on reading…

Regrets? I have a few. . .

 “To err on the side of kindness is seldom an error.” (Liz Armbruster)

Attribution: Donna CameronIn 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.

…keep on reading…

Countering Incivility Without Being a Jerk

“Unkind people imagine themselves to be inflicting pain on someone equally unkind.” (Marcel Proust)

Attribution: donna CameronRecently, 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.

…keep on reading…