“Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt
I was walking with my dog Edison today and as we passed, one of neighbors offered us lettuce. “We have too much,” she said, “Please take some. We are probably going to compost it otherwise.” As we walked away with a giant handful of lettuce, I thought about how touched I was by their simple act of kindness.
Kindness seems like a relic of the past, like politeness and good grammar.
The loss of kindness seems related to our lack of connection. We all spend so much time on our devices that it makes interacting with people rarer every day. Recently a coworker commented about how she was standing in line at the grocery store and when she looked around, every person was looking at their phones. Even those who were with another person or their kids, they were all looking at their phones. “I don’t understand why we can’t just talk to each other,” she said.
As we all turn more into ourselves and our digital lives, it becomes easier and easier to “other” people: the homeless, immigrants, people with different political views. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve had to hide on social media the last few years due to their hateful posts.
To be clear, it’s not about hiding people I don’t agree with. I love to hear well-thought out debates, or spend time understanding how someone has come to a different view than mine. I love to agree to disagree with someone who holds differing views than me.
What I don’t like is when people are unkind. When they dehumanize. When they talk about other people, people they don’t know, like they don’t matter. Like they are “less than”. Like they are animals or somehow subhuman.
None of us know what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes. No one knows what kind of choice we would make if we were faced with the same situation as some of the people we rush to criticize. It’s easy to sit in your nice warm house and judge someone who became homeless, or someone who chooses to flee a terrible situation where they live, or someone who gets caught up in a spiral of addictions or abuse.
It’s easy to criticize someone who is having the worst day of their life, when the biggest annoyance we had today was someone spelled our name wrong on our Starbucks cup or someone cut us off in traffic.
When we get to know other people, it’s easier to be kind. When it’s someone in your family who becomes an addict, you develop sympathy for how people get in this situation. When you spend some time with someone who is homeless and hear their story, you might understand how close many of us are to falling over that edge. When you travel to other places and see how people live, a deep desire for a better life, no matter what the cost is, makes more sense.
Connection breeds kindness. Understanding brings kindness. My wish is for people to all show a little more kindness.
Share your bounty of vegetables.
Make eye contact with that homeless person sitting on the corner.
Have some sympathy for those facing terrible choices or having their children ripped out of their arms.
Speak up for someone who doesn’t have a voice.
Use someone’s preferred pronoun, even if you don’t understand what the fuss is about.
Let someone cut ahead of you when you are driving, even if they don’t seem to understand how to do a zipper merge.
Believe that people experience racism, even if you don’t see it yourself. And ask yourself how you can use your privilege to help.
Mentor someone at your work.
Believe a woman who tells you she was sexually assaulted.
Hold the door for people coming in behind you.
Assume that people have good intentions and meet them where they are with love and respect.
We all want kindness for ourselves. Sometimes the best way to receive kindness is to give it.
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