Things are tense in our society right now. Feels like there are these harsh forces at work, and we’ve ended up so divided that it’s hard to even talk to each other anymore unless you see eye-to-eye on everything. People can be so opinionated, so deliberately mean and hurtful and ugly towards each other. And proud of it! I don’t even have to touch on a specific topic, and you already know what I’m talking about. Facebook. TV. Your office. Traffic. In churches, temples, synagogues, or mosques or with folks who are not religious at all. In virtually any comments section. With friends. With family. With people we hardly know or a perfect stranger at the friggin grocery store. There’s no safe harbor. It’s so easy to find or impossible to avoid that we can just become numb to it. Meanness. Cruelty. Disdain and disgust. And flat out hatred. It’s tempting to blame politics or religion or whatever else happens to be the flavor of the particular conversation but take a peek at how vicious the comments can be beneath a youtube video showing you how to make sugar cookies, or how to fix your kitchen sink, or of a waterskiing squirrel. We seem to have a knack for the nastiness that requires little or no fuel or provocation. The neurons in our brains fire and up a criticism or an insult to the forefront of our thoughts, and away we go.
It sounds so obvious I’m embarrassed to say it, but what we need is a giant cultural injection of kindness. I find myself feeling immediately self-conscious in advocating for kindness, like when politicians say they’re against crime, or that they think it’s a good idea to create more jobs. Duh. Everyone’s against crime. Everyone supports creating more jobs. And duh, everyone knows it would be a nicer world to live in if people regularly practiced kindness towards each other, followed by a pat on the head and, “Yes, that’s sweet. Here, let me lead you down the hall to where the other five-year-olds are playing. You guys can build blocks together and practice kindness. Remember, no biting. Nap time is in an hour.”
It’s true, though. There isn’t a better starting place than kindness. Our society has gotten jaded and cruel, and it desperately needs this injection of life. Simple. And exceedingly difficult. And that’s the problem, isn’t it? I’m not sure we’re durable enough to practice kindness as a lifestyle. It’s easier and safer to keep our knives out, slashing with sarcasm, jabbing with criticism, eviscerating anyone we disagree with on politics, cooking, or what you thought about this season’s finale of whatever show. Because we know how it works. Kindness makes you vulnerable. We may play at it once in a while when the odds are in our favor, but what about when we doubt the other person will show us kindness in return? “Gosh, tempting, but I don’t really need another headache today, thanks anyway.” And the thing is, so often it turns out to be exactly that: painful. You try to be kind, and it gets spit back in your face. So why bother? It’s far too costly and offers too few rewards.
Yeah, we know it alright, which is why living a life of sustained kindness is one of the most challenging things one can attempt to do in this world. Because kindness it is so much more than just the absence of meanness. Sure, meanness sours the water and makes the road more treacherous to travel, but the mere lack of a hurtful remark is far different than the regenerative goodness that bubbles up when someone treats you kindly, lets you know he or she cares about you, hopes for your goodness and well being and makes an effort to bring you a little bit of that just because they want to see you smile. Yeah, we know how powerful that is too. We’re just doubtful it will happen to us.
Look, I’m as guilty as anyone, so this is definitely me speaking from within the kingdom of hypocrites. But what’s the alternative? Continue down this dark and lonely road, further fracturing apart, getting to the point where we can’t even stand to be in the same room as people unless they think and act the way we do?
All the harsh words, sarcasm, and meanness we put on display, I think it’s a ruse to hide how fragile and hurt and afraid most of us are. We don’t have faith in each other. We don’t believe that folks from that other political party or religion or economic class or whatever other category people can be grouped into might be decent people. Nah, we’re pretty sure they’re not. After all, did you see what that one guy from that one group said about that one thing? Yeah, they’re no good. And the hard thing is, I can’t offer any guarantee that you’re wrong. Maybe they are just as mean and bad and hopeless as you think they are. Of course, they may feel the same way about you. And so here we are.
But I have a theory that if a few of us can bond together and decide this is what we want to do—be kind, be good to each other and be gracious to people even when they hold views we aren’t especially fond of, be durable enough to withstand an insult without returning it, be patient, and be determined to stick with it—if we could do this, we could start to make a difference even in this sea of negativity. I think it’s the truth. These articles are supposed to be short, so I’m obviously already out of time. But I would welcome suggestions from people for how this might be accomplished. Is it even possible? How could we get this movement of kindness off the ground? What might start to turn the tides?
If this appeals to you, I’d love to hear your thoughts.