Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Where has all the kindness—and the coffee—gone?

image from: http://handsonnortheastgeorgia.com/2013/02/11/random-acts-kindness-world/
I’m a bit melancholy this morning. The clouds hang a bit lower and heavier than usual. The wind bites a little harder than it should for an April morning. And I’m wondering why I can’t just “snap out of it,” until I remind myself that sometimes that’s not the best solution to weightedness. There’s nothing snappy about it, and it may be best to dig around a bit in the dark to figure out why the dark is there.
Here are a few reasons I can find easily as to why this certain gloom has set in:

·         I found out a wonderfully kind lady I knew back in my younger years has passed away.
·         I read an article about Sandy Hook that blamed the event on violent videos games
·         I saw a meme mocking a boat as a good hiding place for an on-the-run bomber.
·         While looking at said meme, another gory, horrifying picture of a man injured in the Boston bombing popped up, and I was not prepared for it.
·         My desk (at which I am sitting) is stacked with work that I should be completing, yet here I am writing instead.
·         I haven’t had my coffee yet. (You may laugh, but sadly this does make a difference.)

I’ve been ruminating for several days on the Boston bombing and the ensuing man-hunt. And, as I did after Sandy Hook, I forced myself into stillness. To listen. To observe. After Sandy Hook, I wrote a post about taking a moment of stillness, finding a space of silence, in order to allow empathy to bloom and allow healing (rather than more wounding) to happen. And part of me feels that the world again needs reminded of that.

However, today is different. While we still need a moment of stillness, and we still need empathy, today something else has occurred to me. It occurred to me while I was wrangling my children out of the car, into backpacks, and into their classrooms. My youngest constantly races her older sisters to be first—first everywhere. To the front doors. Down the hall. To the classroom. She wants to be first so badly that she will extend both of her arms as far as they will reach and, as she is running, work to fend off anyone else from passing her. (Though with her limited wingspan, she is often unsuccessful.) This endeavor often ends in tears—hers or her sisters or both. (Or mine out of sheer frustration at the scene that is inevitably created.)

Today, I stopped her in the hallway, squatted down eye-level with her, and said, “Being kind is more important than being first.”

I asked if she understood me.

She nodded. “Yes, Mama.”

And for  the first time this morning I felt a slight lifting of the heaviness. Possibly because of the adorableness of my 4-year-old, who has the cutest “repentant” face ever when I am correcting her. But more so because I feel like I just threw a spark into that darkness that seems to be swallowing society.

Darkness created because kids don’t know how to be kind. And kids don’t know how to be kind because adults don’t know how to be kind. Kindness, it seems, is often seen as weakness—though the truth is quite the opposite. Great strength of character is always found at the root of kindness.

Kindness is not a feeling (like empathy or compassion). It is a conscious decision to withhold self-interest or self-promotion or perceived justice, and to offer something of benefit to someone else, despite our personal feelings. It is beyond just being civil (although even civility seems lacking in some people.) Kindness is something that is cultivated and enacted with effort, at times supreme effort.

What if we all consciously tried to be kind—to the person driving 10 miles under the speed limit (and I’m am SO guilty of bumper-riding the slow poke), to the person who cuts in front of us at Costco (Man, do I ever want to ram them with my tank-sized cart), to the person who is constantly proclaiming how successful they are (as they look down their nose at my Target brand shoes), to the person who is spouting constant political jargon and believes whomever doesn’t agree is a moron (I’ve had to bite my tongue nearly off at times not to respond).

Like I said, kindness can take supreme effort.


What if the shooters at Columbine had been treated kindly by their peers? What if the shooters of Aurora or Newtown (to name a few) had received more kindness in their lives? Or the boys who bombed Boston?

I’m not saying that kindness will solve all the world’s problems. Yet, if each of us keeps shooting sparks of kindness into the darkness (and teaching our kids to do the same), at some point something’s bound to ignite.

Of course, maybe I’ll feel differently once I’ve had my coffee. (But I doubt it.)

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  1. This was a really great post, Anna. My mom always made it her mission to teach my sister and me both kindness and compassion. She always taught us that, unfortunately, people don't often remember the people who were kind to them because they are far too busy remembering the people who have been especially unkind. But, she said, it is a far better thing to be forgotten because your kindness was taken for granted but made a difference than to be remembered for being cruel. It really stuck with me. And now, as an adult, I often think of the people, every day, who are kind to me and vice versa and wonder how many people have been deliberately kind and have escaped my notice.

    1. Sounds like your mom was pretty amazing--and it's too true. We also do seem to remember those who were unkind, but do we notice those who made that choice for kindness? Not nearly as much. May more mothers take the road yours did and teach their young 'uns the importance of kindness. Thanks, Kate!

  2. Anna, this plea is SO needed, thank you a million times for such a compassionate, intelligent, articulate and reflective piece. It is true that it can be supremely difficult to show kindness sometimes, but to do so speaks to a trust in a person's shared humanity. I've had a bit of a melancholy morning too, so thank you for your sparks into the darkness.

    1. Thank you, Liza, for your kind words. I hope that your melancholy day has brightened.

  3. Wonderful words Anna...and so very true. When I volunteer at my childrens school (middle school) I am saddened by the way the children treat each other, and their teachers. It is a shame because this is the next generation to move this world, and where will they move it?

    1. Thank you, Debbi - and I think it's fantastic that you are able to volunteer at your kids' school and have the opportunity to shine the light of kindness on some of these kids who will never experience it elsewhere! It is a scary thought to consider the kind of world our kids are inheriting--such a motivation to do more.

  4. I'm sorry to hear you're feeling a bit down, but I also believe in letting oneself feel these things through. There was a great piece about that topic that I'll have to look for and share with you (if ever I find it). But I completely agree with teaching kindness and practicing it. I've begun to notice the change in daily discourse between people. It's evolved into something less polite/gentle/kind and something more sarcastic/biting/defensive. I'm not sure why. Sometimes I wonder if social media is to blame-the virtual portals creating a safety net for harsh words behind a computer screen. Anyway, I do my best to relay the same messages that you do with my own children. It is more important to be kind. Very well written :)

    1. Thank you, Jennifer - indeed, there is a shift that seems to be happening in our ability to politely interact and it may be the influence of social media. That would make sense. Kindness is often spawned in a social setting (face-to-face, typically) and when our "social" is with a computer screen or a mobile device, the ability to cultivate the necessary skills or civility and kindness are numbed. Or maybe I have no idea what I'm talking about. Either way, thank you for visiting, reading, and commenting, today is looking much brighter for your having been in it :)

  5. Enjoyed your thoughts, Anna. I remember many kindnesses I've been shown by others throughout my lifetime and I'm So grateful for them. Soft answers really do turn away wrath. :)

    1. It's so true, Danni - I just wish sometimes that that soft answer was a little more instinctual, rather than a force of will. But maybe then kindness would lose some of its power if everyone instinctively was kind. Whoa, this is getting too deep for this early in the morning :) Always lovely to see you, Danni - thanks!


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