Thursday, June 21, 2012


Next time you are having a really bad day, try this: kindness. It really works for me.

It can be something as easy as a smile and a hello to a stranger, telling a joke to a friend, paying a compliment to someone, or lending a sympathetic ear. It can be kindness towards a human or an animal. It can even be an inanimate object. I know my 1991 Mitsubishi appreciates an oil change and a good washing. Ok that might be a stretch but you get the idea.

The smile and hello to a stranger is a remarkable one, as it carries a small element of risk. It seems as if we have a slight fear of this act in that it may not be given back to us in equal measure. Much less risky to avoid it all together. It is true that every now and then a smile and hello is met with no reaction or even a negative one. In this case the whole thing seems like a loss, but really it is the victory of one smile rather than the double victory of two. You've made an effort to change a small part of the world and good for you!

And now I've just turned into some kind of motivational speaker: "YOU have the power to bring joy into your life and into the life of those around you and YOU have the power to reach for your dreams and achieve the financial independence that YOU have always wanted! Just call my toll-free number below and I'll send you my FREE(*) kit that describes how to turn DEFEAT into VICTORY and DEBT into WEALTH and LEFTOVERS into a TWELVE COURSE GORMET FEAST!!!"

(*)Shipping and Handling charges of four easy payments of $29.99 payable via most major credit cards.

Sorry I got carried away.... oh yes, kindness.

I am fortunate to have been raised in a kind and loving home where I was taught to feel the reciprocal joy in giving kindness to others. In this sense it is a very easy thing to do as I get nearly as much benefit as the person who is the recipient of the kindness. Perhaps more. The mechanism that provides this is empathy. It is the ability to sense in others what they are feeling and to relate to it. It is something that I cannot remember ever having been without.

But that is not to say I always act with kindness in all cases. Sometimes I will give a handout to a person on the street and sometimes I won't. I can't really explain why. I'll almost always approach an animal that appears to be lost, but if the animal runs away, a part of me will feel relief that I can't catch the animal and "I did everything I could" but I don't have to deal with the responsibility of the animal at that point and hopefully it is not really lost and it will find its way home or someone else will pick it up and so on.

I can imagine the best of us do this now and then. We all fail, so to speak, and that is ok. I think humans might naturally be selfish and uncaring, and empathy might require a certain nurturing environment in which to grow. Or perhaps empathy is present in very young children but society pressures us to abandon empathy and therefore it needs to be actively encouraged in young children by grownups. Or perhaps empathy needs to be encouraged in grownups by young children.

In any event I am also aware that there are people who don't have this empathetic mechanism or they cannot feel this reciprocal joy that comes from kindness in all cases. Most of these people seem to reside in Kansas these days. 

** And now, the tone of this essay will turn slightly dark **

Hatred is, to me, the exact opposite of kindness, and it seems that Kansas generates a regular supply of news stories that places us in the center of the "hatred for those who are different" national spotlight. The latest is a piece of state legislation that would allow open and willful discrimination of gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgendered people under the guise of "religious freedom."

The bill (HB 2384) is called the "Kansas Preservation of Religious Freedom Act." It was adopted by the Kansas State House by a vote of 89 for and 27 against. It had popular support in the State Senate but was effectively shut down by public outcry from civil right groups before the Senate brought it up for voting. Still, three out of four of our elected representative in the House felt ok voting to legalize the active discrimination of a certain class of people who are "different."

Perhaps empathy needs to be encouraged in grownups by young children.

I hesitate to jump on the "Christian hypocrisy" bandwagon, and of course I know that all Christians are not like this, but it really is just too big and obvious to avoid, especially when there is such a concentration of them here in Kansas. Without actually naming Christians in particular, it is obvious that Kansas House Bill 2384 is legislation that would have allowed the legal discrimination against the LGBT community by Christians.

I wish I could say that this is all some sort of political slant, but I downloaded the document, and after several hours of careful investigation, I came to this conclusion. The document contains very careful wording, and it references several other state and federal laws and other legal documents, but at the end of the day it has the effect of exactly what I describe above. I may get challenged on this but it is simply not open for debate. Sorry. It is simply a document that legalizes hate.

And since this essay is all about kindness I will try to avoid an angry and accusing tone, and with that in mind I must ask these hateful Christians, what would Jesus do?

I was raised Christian so I have studied the philosophy of Jesus. I no longer practice the Christian faith or any other faith or religion for that matter, but I do admire the man who was Jesus for the values he promoted. And wasn't Jesus the champion of kindness? Didn't he associate with the lowest of society? Didn't he seek redemption and renewal and ACCEPTANCE for all people? Wouldn't he advocate for the protection of ALL people EQUALLY under the law?

And let us be realistic about what the phrase "under the law" means in a practical sense. I get that laws aren't going to change people's true feelings. Someone who feels discomfort around another person for any reason will continue to discriminate against them and our laws cannot change that. But should we have laws that openly encourage it? Shouldn't the person who wants to discriminate be forced to do so in secrecy and with shame? Shouldn't the victim of discrimination have some semblance of legal recourse if they can in fact prove the discrimination?

And we can easily descend into a quagmire of "what about this" and "what about that" and rules and exceptions and how do you really define discrimination and why can't I, a 40-something-pale-hairy-man-with-skinny-legs-and-love-handles, get a job as a server at Hooters? Isn't that also a form of discrimination? And all this really goes to show how difficult it is to legislate morality and how sticky these issues are.

And so I come back to the notion of kindness. All legislation and local ordinances and federal mandates aside, how about we just consider simple kindness?

To those traditional folks out there who are opposed to the gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgendered lifestyle, consider what it might be like to just simply be kind to these people when you encounter them. You don't have to agree with their lifestyle or even understand it, but what about just being kind to them? And I'm not talking about just being kind to their face, but in allowing them to exist in your mind as fellow human beings. Try to imagine that they are just as happy and fulfilled and productive in their life as you are in yours.

A good friend of mine once admitted that he is a bit homophobic in his reaction to gays, but yet he understands that they are fellow members of our society and they have every right to the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness that we all do. I'll have to admit that there is a tiny part of me that feels the same way. A hesitation towards people who are different or unknown is natural. That is why it is sometimes difficult to even smile and say hello to a stranger on the street. There is an element of the unknown and it causes us all some level of discomfort.

But we have to get past this.

Once you take these small risks and see how a small gesture of kindness can do so much, it really does start to change your world. Once you understand that the different people you encounter actually have some similarities to yourself then you start to understand what I believe Jesus was really all about. The Muslims and the Hindus and the Jews and the Christians and the Democrats and the Republicans and the poor and the rich and the young and the elderly and the bold and the beautiful and the trekkies and the nerds and the jocks and the gamers and all of the different ways that we categorize people... it all collapses once we see them as being similar to us in some small way.

Of course hatred has been a staple of humanity in all parts of the world throughout all of history, but yet there are examples here and there where groups of different people can get along and exist side-by-side. I imagine that there were constant challenges to any peace and harmony that might exist between different groups of people, and that maintaining peace and harmony took lots of work and compromise and it was never perfect. But at the end of the day you would have to imagine that it was worth it. Just to get on with life. Just to not waste so much time and energy to suppress those who are different. Just to accept others and forget about it. Just to imagine that you are not "better" than they are.

I've met people who are very rigidly set in their ways and they won't be turned. Any effort to get them to see a different perspective and act with kindness is a lost cause. I've engaged these people in drawn out debates and it nearly always ends with not even the slightest budge. But I do see rare examples of people stepping out of their frightened shell. It is a difficult thing to turn someone away from their own fear and persuade them to be kind, and I often fail, but still it seems worth it. Kindness, folks. Give it a try.

"So many gods, so many creeds, so many paths that wind and wind, while just the art of being kind, is all the sad world needs." - Ella Wheeler Wilcox

** And now, the tone of this essay will turn slightly more light-hearted **

My Muslim friend of mine had to put new brakes on his car and he was asking me about the possibility of doing the work himself. I told him that I generally like working on cars, but brakes are a drag. Sorry. Engineer joke.

A Christian friend and I were discussing our favorite places to dine. I asked her if she had heard about the new restaurant on the moon? She hadn't. I explained that it had great food but no atmosphere.

I once asked a Jewish dentist for his best piece of wisdom. He said, "Be true to your teeth and they will never be false to you."

A Democrat and Republican were relaxing by the pool at a nudist colony. They were both interested in economic theory but obviously had different opinions. The Democrat turned to the Republican and asked, "Have you read Marx?" The Republican replied, "Yes, from these wicker chairs!"  (Have you red marks?)

A piece of string walks into a gay bar. The bartender looks at him and says, "We don't serve your kind here, you'll have to leave." The dejected string walks outside. He then splits and frazzles his ends, and loops himself around and goes through his middle and pulls himself tight. He walks back into the gay bar. The bartender looks at him and says, "Aren't you that piece of string I just threw out?" The piece of string says, "No, I'm a frayed knot."


  1. Great jokes. Something clean to pass on to my students. However, being an AP English Language teacher, I must KINDLY point out ... Gourmet has a 'u'. Engineers, having an affinity for edification, would want to know.
    A reader and fellow blogger,

    1. WHAT???!!!! I ran spell check before I posted. Hmmm.... must investigate.

  2. I enjoy your blogs Paul. I wish the people who need to read your posts were the ones seeing them. Alas, I think we who read them are in agreement and like minded...If you ever want another career, consider teaching. On another note, that last joke had me almost falling out of my chair! LMBO!!!! I really want to reveal that? ;-p

  3. That was very well written, Paul. I love the way you think.

    If I was single, I would LOVE to ask you out for coffee :P .

    Oh wait... I live in France. Sniff ;) .

    But anyway, I am totally with you on the kindness bit. And I do realize as well that we may not be able to change everyone, and that everyone has the right to their opinion anyway... but kindness would indeed go a long long way.

  4. I might go into Hooters if you actually worked there. And played guitar, I would have to insist on the guitar. :-)

    I think a lot of hatred is about laziness. It's easier not to think too hard, or reach out, or grow up. I am cheered by the young though, they look at these old hatreds and are puzzled that people feel that way. I am also cheered by the internet, while some people use it to spread hate, many more use it to teach tolerance. And of course, chase zombies.

  5. I find I have no trouble treating perfect strangers with kindness, as it is no skin off my back to do so and it generally tends to improve any situation. I find it much more difficult in the day-to-day to maintain a tone of kindness with challenging family members. Why it is so different I'm not really sure. I have been working on it, and I've found that when I am able to turn to empathy instead of to frustration in those challenging moments, the situation turns on a dime from a potential argument to a moment of connection and maybe even a smile. I actually made my mom laugh tonight during a situation that normally would collapse into pointless bickering.

  6. Frayed knot. Hehehe.
    I will add that it is important to remember that one can rarely have knowledge of what circumstances are causing a person to act in undesirable ways. At work, in particular, I try not to react badly to people who are sometimes gruff. For all I know, they are experiencing something trying at home or their boss has given them orders to do something that goes against their better judgement and they are acting out based on things that are immaterial to the discussion at hand.

    I've found that maintaining a friendly or neutral attitude and not getting sucked into the emotion of a person's response works best. When in doubt, I revert to the old trick of being a mirror "it sounds like this is very upsetting to you." Of course when the cashier at the supermarket is too busy talking to the bag boy about when her shift ends to look at me, I am not so generous. Even then, though, I am more satisfied if my reaction is to smile and continue talking to her than on the occasions when I react with caustic remarks.

    As for that freedom of religion crap bill crap. Ish. Hatred is so ingrained and lights up such primal parts of the brain that there is no way to reason with some people.

  7. P.S. You might want to rethink having the word verification enabled. I've found the blogger spam catcher to be sufficient to prevent robot replies and those weird characters are challenging to one wearing trifocal lenses.

  8. I propose that we pass on homeless kittens in lieu of a smile and a hello, as I believe this generosity will bring even more joy in the life of the recipient.

    I currently have a homeless kitten living under my deck, and his mother is pregnant again. I have access to providing much joy to the recipients of my generosity as I take care of homeless and feral cats perpetually.

    I realize that I can help these unfortunate downtrodden cats by having them sterilized, but alas, I don't have the financial resources for the never ending supply of the unloved who call my yard home - there have been too many over the years.

    Please spread word of my Give Love, Give a Kitten campaign.

    Yours truly,

  9. I actually /don't/ recommend waving and smiling at random strangers on the street. I did that once when I was in Taipei, and some creepy, old dude literally followed me about halfway home just to see if I was an American (because apparently, only Americans do that kind of thing).

  10. My friend and I were being followed and mildly harassed (catcalls) by some Italian sailors in Venice back when I was studying abroad during my college years. We tried to ignore them, but finally, out of frustration, I turned around to them and yelled "droppo deaddo", which, of course, meant alot to people who only speak Italian. In fact, it only made things worse, as they started parroting us, and we only got away from them when we boarded the ferry back to the hostel.

    On a more serious note, I am sincerely astonished at the kinds of laws people want to pass today. If you told me, even ten years ago, that these kinds of things would be happening, I wouldn't have believed you. None of us are angels, but when it starts heading toward the tipping point, it's time to write/call our congressmen and remind them that we put them there and we can take them out (of office).

  11. These are great, Paul! Miss talking and laughing with you...
    Take Care:)

  12. I wonder how you have read my mind so clearly, and taken my jumbled thoughts and set them in order! I whole heartedly agree with you Paul.
    You see, I have a son who is now openly gay. And I come across this same intolerance in my own family. I too wonder where Christianity took a wrong turn (I'm reading a book called Christianity after Religion and it is helping).
    People are simply afraid of what they don't know. This includes people of different races, lifestyles, and religions. So instead of facing their fears and doing what is right, they would rather bury their head in the proverbial sand and continue to be wrong at the risk of hurting others. Oh, how my heart has been broken over this time and time again.
    Thank you for voicing so eloquently what my damaged brain could not.

  13. Ahhh, that frayed knot jokes is one of my favorites - along with the tomatoes running along the side of the road and the old woman and the man working on his suntan.

  14. Kermit the Frog went into his local bank looking for a loan to help out his theater. He walked up to the loan officer and said:

    "Hi, I'm Kermit the Frog and I would like to take out a loan."

    The loan officer said:

    "Well Hello my name is Patricia Black and if you would just come over here I will see what I can do for you."

    So Kermit and Patricia go over to her desk to talk about getting a loan. Patricia says:

    "In order to get a loan Kermit you need collatoral."

    "Whats collatoral?" Kermit asked.

    "Collatoral is something that you put up against the loan in case you happen to default" She replied.

    Kermit thought for a minute than reached into his pocket and brought out a yoyo and put it on her desk. Patricia looked at it for a minute and then said:

    "No, I don't think thats what I meant."

    "Oh, OK sorry." Kermit replied "How about this?" He reached into his pocket and brought out a small kitten figurine.

    "No, No I think your not really understanding." said Patricia.

    "Oh wait, I know, how about this?" said Kermit. He reached into his pocket and brought out a crystal unicorn and placed it on the desk.

    Just then the bank manager walked over and asked if anything was the matter. Patricia looked at him and said:

    "This is Kermit the Frog and he is looking for a loan to help his theater but the only thing he has given me for collatoral are these, I mean what are these?"

    The bank manager looked at the items and said:

    "They're nick nacks Patty Black give the frog a loan."


  15. Paul, if you haven't I recommend reading "I'm Christian, Unless You're Gay", a very powerful blog with some amazing responses.

    Peace and purrs.

  16. Thanks, that was beautifully said and true.

  17. Kindness

    Before you know what kindness really is
    you must lose things,
    feel the future dissolve in a moment
    like salt in a weakened broth.
    What you held in your hand,
    what you counted and carefully saved,
    all this must go so you know
    how desolate the landscape can be
    between the regions of kindness.
    How you ride and ride
    thinking the bus will never stop,
    the passengers eating maize and chicken
    will stare out the window forever.

    Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
    you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
    lies dead by the side of the road.
    You must see how this could be you,
    how he too was someone
    who journeyed through the night with plans
    and the simple breath that kept him alive.

    Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
    you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
    You must wake up with sorrow.
    You must speak to it till your voice
    catches the thread of all sorrows
    and you see the size of the cloth.

    Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
    only kindness that ties your shoes
    and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
    purchase bread,
    only kindness that raises its head
    from the crowd of the world to say
    it is I you have been looking for,
    and then goes with you every where
    like a shadow or a friend.

    Naomi Shihab Nye
    from The Words Under the Words: Selected Poems

  18. can't for the life of me figure out why you are still single.