Thursday, June 30, 2022

Cultivating Kindness

I have had to eat my own words many times, and I have found it a very nourishing diet.


-      Winston Churchill


What were you thinking, Doug? Really? A culture of kindness? Have you read Social Media lately? Did you ever hear of Twitter? Have you noticed that a simple opinion or fact gently stated can unleash a tsunami of venomous vitriol? That it’s difficult these days to have a simple conversation over the chasm of differing points of view without each side hurling their stock phrases of insult and contempt? Where exactly is that kindness and caring you celebrated in yesterday’s post?


I confess— guilty as charged. So here I chew on those words and try to find the nourishment in re-considering them. Not to take them back, but to put them in a larger context. 


First of all, the explosive wrathful responses to what could be simple conversations on social media are real, disturbing and deeply damaging to civil public discourse. The perfect storm of spite, harshness, nastiness and mean-spirited talk is brewed by four (and more) different weather fronts:

• People unwilling to reflect on their own shortcomings and desperate to find others to blame for their life’s failures.

• An ex-President who modeled that pitiful state of being and expressed it daily in his toddler-tantrum-tweets.

• An entire political party that equates caring with weakness.

• The very nature of social media where people can hide behind the anonymity and safety of not having to say their piece face-to-face.


One simple solution is to understand that e-mails, Facebook, Twitter and the like are not the places to engage in conflicting conversations of any kind. Use them to show cute pictures of your cat, share your amazing dinner, post some shots of the pyramids you finally got to visit. And if you feel compelled, as I have, to share things of greater depth that might include a political point of view, invite anyone who differs to call you up or meet you for coffee rather than engage electronically. The very nature of the medium works against any hope of respectful listening, considering alternate points of view or coming to a new perspective and understanding. 


Secondly, the daily raging storm of unkindness, shown in its extreme in the behind-the-scenes stories revealed in the January 6thhearings, for example, does not cancel out the daily news the newspaper never reports. People of all sorts who show care for others, themselves, plants or animals are forever amongst us. 


Thirdly, even as I reported my school culture based on welcoming, even as I witnessed it yet again as SF School kids in my daughter’s summer camp welcomed and included her niece in the camp, I also sometimes hear stories of behind-the-scenes meanness and bullying between certain kids that has gone on for years without me suspecting it. If kindness is an indelible potential in the human psyche, so is its opposite. Celebrating one without acknowledging the other is simply naïve and thus, not useful.


I think what I was aiming for in yesterday’s post is simply the fact that the possibility of kindness as an ongoing practice has made it to the table, is now included in a conversation in which the idea had been formerly excluded. It’s a long way to go from flashing a sign in Golden Gate Park that says “Be kind” and actually cultivating it as a habit, but the first step is simply to say those words out loud and suggest that this should be expected of us.


A spiritual teacher once said, “I have both God and the Devil inside of me.” “Which one is stronger?” asked the student. “Whichever one I feed.”


Feed kindness.


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