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!!!"
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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."