Some Ideas About Kindness

It’s the season for it, after all.

Kindness isn’t cool. Let’s get that out of the way first. I mean, on the totem pole of awesome qualities, it’s not number one, is what I’m saying. If a genie materialized via pop-up ad right now, and was like: “Quick! Top three qualities you want me to enhance for you. GO.” Kindness wouldn’t make the list. Maybe you’d say: “make me smarter,” or “make me super funny,” or “please give me bigger tits” — which wouldn’t even be a quality I don’t think, not really, and anyway that’s beside the point. The point is, kindness wouldn’t come up.

And why should it? Like I said, it isn’t cool. Sarcasm is cool. Saying deep, think-y stuff is cool. Winning the Olympic Gold for irony is cool. But being kind just… isn’t.

Compassion expert Sharon Salzburg wonders whether kindness has an “also-ran” sort of vibe to it. She worries it’s the type of characteristic you might “cultivate if tougher, finer things like wisdom elude you.” It’s such a shame we devalue being kind, that we misinterpret it, dismiss the power it has. A really big shame.

I wish it wasn’t that way. You know what would be great? If we switched it up for once, put kindness at the top of the totem pole, made it so the good guys actually finished first, made it so the hero in the story was brave not because he climbed a mountain and punched some boogeyman’s lights out, but because he took a quiet, important emotional risk. Because he led with his heart.

These are some things I’ve been thinking lately. I have kindness on the brain. Kindness and love. Together. I think it’s because I’m worried about us. I’m worried that our ideological disagreements are rupturing this society, tearing at the fabric that holds everything together.

People in the U.S. are so stridently divided these days, that when you open your mouth and the word ‘reconcile’ comes floating out, they just laugh at you. Sometimes you laugh at yourself, too. You roll your eyes internally because how childish, how completely bonkers is it to think you can wave away overt, aggressive acts of injustice and oppression and racism and antisemitism and all the rest of it with a fairy wand of love. It’s silly. It’s worse than silly, it’s insane.

But, somehow, that’s exactly what we have to do it, isn’t it? We have to figure out a way to transmute our feelings of anger into something more productive. We have to make sure we’re not demonizing “the other side,” have to be able to create space to let go — not to forgive and forget, I’m not suggesting that — but to reconcile.

That word, reconcile, apparently comes from the Latin concillare, meaning “bring together.” Stick the ‘re’ on the front, and you’ve got yourself “bring back together.” There it is. That’s what we need to do. We need to come together again. And again. And again, as many times as necessary, plunging deep into our wells of kindness and heartfullness and benevolence. We need to extend our hands, beyond our traditional allegiances to religion, to ideology, to tribes and groups and places. We need to look around at each other and realize, to really understand, that all of us are now in this thing together.

If you know someone who needs emotional support this Thanksgiving, write to me (TinyLettersForLove(at)Gmail(dot)com), and I will send them a love letter. I’m totally serious: