So, you know this already: 2013 is my Personal Year of Kindness. Seems like once you start making yourself aware of something, it just pops up everywhere. It or, sometimes, the lack of it.
This past week, I watched one of those Facebook kerfluffles unfold. You know the ones, they happen all the time… someone posts something that represents their opinion on some hot button issue and this post emerges on the feed, reaches out into this person’s group of “friends” and pinches someone hard and mean. Then it’s on. The reply posts begin. Opposing opinions get all fired up. People feel hurt and get emotional behind their keyboards and, in the worst cyber-friendship outcomes, “friends” are un-friended.
Facebook is a great, big wonderful potpourri, of course–from humor and playful games to what our kids and dogs do. From what we have for dinner and our vacation check-ins to quotes that we find inspirational. But some people do use it as an activist’s platform and blast our their message whenever they get the urge. The problem, as I see it, is not the opinion of the poster but often the manner in which they deliver it to a group of “friends.” Regardless of one’s individual stance on politics, religion or anything of controversy, the potential exists–especially from the keyboard–to put someone off with a post that comes off as brash or derogatory toward a differing point of view. Now, it’s true, if you don’t like what you see and read, you are free to stop the feed, but, what if kindness were the way?
My sister is a breast cancer survivor and, because of this, every doctor I ever come into contact with is constantly scanning, poking, prodding and snipping me for the tumor they seem certain my body will produce one of these days. A few years ago, I was going to a specialist almost weekly where, on the waiting room wall, there was a pretty little plaque with a picture of a flower or a sunset–I can’t remember which–but, underneath, was a beautiful quote by Henry James on kindness:
Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.
This particular doctor always had a long wait time and I never seemed to remember to bring a book so, after I’d despondently looked through all the old Redbooks and People magazines, I had plenty of time to stare off into space–or to stare at this little plaque. She had ambient music playing and one of those little fountains in the corner and, to tell you the truth, it was one of the more pleasant rooms I have ever had to sit and wait for a doctor, poking and prodding notwithstanding. So, I used to read this sweet quote over and over again, almost like a meditative mantra… to be kind, to be kind, to be kind…
I thought of it today while the aforementioned kerfluffle was still getting a few replies, including mine, which I will get to later. Earlier in the week we heard the news of Roger Ebert’s passing. The Daily Good sent out their good daily good with links to Ebert’s 2009 reflection on mortality (do check out this wonderful column if you would like to read one of the most inspirational and personal musings on the meaning of it all). The email also included Ebert’s simple and lovely quote:
To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find out.
I don’t remember exactly when I joined Facebook, but I know that I have gone through two heated elections there. Once upon a time I felt the need to blast out my opinion, sometimes in ways that I now know probably did come off as brash and derogatory to those with differing points of view. Somewhere along the way, however, I began to feel, not only the futility of these posts–I mean, really, who changes their personal philosophy of politics or religion because of their “friend’s” Facebook posts???–but also the potential meanness in them. I believe strongly in the freedom of expression, however, I also believe that as human beings we must consider the words we put out into the Universe because once they are said, they cannot be unsaid. I have come to feel that I do, indeed, want to at the very least try to contribute joy to the world.
Yes, before we speak we could think… and ask ourselves… Is it true? Is it helpful? Is it inspirational? Is it necessary? Is it kind? There is, I believe, a difference between stating our own stance in a way that is proclamatory and stating our own stance in a way that offends, insults or degrades others. What if kindness were the way?
Mixed into the week was another daily goodness from The Daily Good (I swear, I love those people over there!), a video of the glorious poet, Maya Angelou, reading her iconic poem, Still I Rise. Oh, my goodness, I love Maya, I love this wonderful poem and, to watch and hear her read it gave me chills. It is the perfect mode of thought to go to when we encounter the brashness, the meanness and the unthinking unkindnesses of others. While Angelou’s poem is rooted in the history of her ancestors, the message is universal. Rise!
Still I Rise, by Maya Angleou
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
My contribution to that Facebook thread was a call to the offended person to consider that, perhaps, this other person had not realized the power of kindness in her own life yet? Being kind isn’t always easy. Kindness isn’t always something that we think of first, especially when we are thinking of our selves, which is what most of us tend to do; I know I do. Often, it feels easier, at least at the moment, to hold grudges, to react defensively, to be right, to win, or to fight for that last, awful word.
But, seriously, what if kindness were the way?
TRY THIS WEEK: The way of kindness.