Be Kind to Others.
Remarks by Nick Troiano upon honorary induction to the Delaware Valley High School chapter of Rho Kappa (10/21/19)
Good evening. I am very honored to be with you and to be inducted into the Delaware Valley chapter of Rho Kappa this evening.
The “Cherished halls of Delaware” as our alma mater speaks of truly shaped my life — and that was especially true of the social studies department, where I found my passion for civics and politics that I continue to pursue today.
It was thanks in large part not to the texts we read, but to the teachers who inspired me. Mr. Gelderman and Mr. Schaffer were among them, and I am especially grateful to them this evening.
Congratulations to all the students being inducted tonight and to their parents in the audience.
This is an honor I am sure you have each worked very hard for, and it feels good when that hard work is recognized. But, please, do not confuse such honors for the “payoff” of your hard work. Your true payoff will be how you choose to use your time and your talents to make this world of ours a better place.
And it is in that spirit tonight that I want to take the opportunity of my honorary induction to share one piece of advice with you. It won’t be new to you. In fact, like most of life’s most important lessons, you likely learned it in kindergarten. I’m just here to use my own story to remind you about why it is so important.
The last time I spoke at Delaware Valley High School was 12 years ago when I graduated as student council president. In a speech to the student body, my last words quoted Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “Above all else,” I said, “to thine own selves be true.”
That was easy advice to give. It was much harder to follow.
It would be five more years until I began to accept myself as a gay man — a journey that I feel I am still on to this very day — because while I lead a happily “out” life, I’ve not until this moment uttered those words so publicly. I never felt compelled to do so.
So why do I share that with you this evening?
To be honest, I felt that if I was coming back to my high school, “coming out” in a way that I have never before would be the ultimate revenge on the bully who told me and others that being gay — really, being different — was to be “less than.” Despite the unconditional love of my family, it was this fear of being “less than” that kept me in the closet until I was 23 years old.
So it is a bit cathartic to come back here to tell that bully that the source of their meanness and intolerance was likely their own insecurity; that to build themselves up they felt it necessary to tear someone else down — an ultimate sign of weakness.
That’s not all. In addition, I wanted to come here tonight not only to forgive, but also to ask for forgiveness.
Because that bully was me. I wasn’t the only one, of course; but I was one.
Sometimes, I repeated the jokes and the slurs. Sometimes, I made fun of others who were different. Sometimes, I used my social capital not to include but to exclude. Sometimes, I said things and did things that, looking back today, I am ashamed of.
I know how those actions hurt others, because I know how they hurt me — to the extent that I was unwilling to accept one of the most foundational truths of who I was as a person for years.
Nevertheless, forgiveness is important.
Martin Luther King, Jr. told us why:
“He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love…Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning.”
Being back here tonight and sharing that with you represents a fresh start and a new beginning for me. One that I’ve been searching for, wittingly or unwittingly, for 16 years since I was a freshman in this high school.
More importantly, it leads me to the piece of advice I told you that I wanted to share with you. It’s the lesson you already learned in kindergarten that I wanted to remind you the importance of.
It’s simple; just four words: be kind to others.
Be kind to others. Don’t go on to one day deeply regret your unkind actions — because they are, in one way or another, likely hurting you as much as the person you may be hurting.
And when others aren’t kind to you, do not hate them. Instead, “love your enemies.” And be ready to forgive them.
Recognize, as MLK also told us:
“There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us.” And that “returning hate for hate [only] multiplies hate.” He famously said: “darkness cannot drive our darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” He said: “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”
When I first gave thought to what I would share with you tonight, it certainly wasn’t this.
I thought it would be on the subject on how to achieve career success. But the best career advice I can give is the best life advice that I just did. I am confident of this when I think about my two mentors in politics, Doug Bailey and Jake Brewer, both of whom are no longer with us.
By the time he retired in the late 1980’s, Doug was the most successful Republican political consultant in the country. And, on the other hand, by the time he was tragically killed in at a charity bike ride just four years ago at age 34, Jake was working in the White House for President Obama as a senior adviser to the Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Do you know what they both had in common that was instrumental to their career success?
First, they were kind to others. In fact, they were the most kind people I’ve ever met. Jake was the busiest person I knew in DC, but he would always reach out to see how I was doing and how he could help a young college student find his way.
Second, they loved their enemies. They did not hate. They found capacity to forgive. In fact, the last political organization Doug ran, which got me involved in politics in the first place, he started with his one-time opponent from the Ford-Carter campaign in 1976, whom he lost to.
And do you know how they are both remembered today? Not by how many Senators and Governors Doug helped elected. Or by how many policy accomplishments Jake had under his belt.
They are remembered by every person who knew them by how they were personally treated — especially by those with whom they disagreed. In fact, some of Doug’s best friends were Democrats, and some of Jake’s were Republicans — including his wife.
A few years ago, David Brooks wrote about résumé virtues versus the eulogy virtues.
“The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace,” he said. “The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful.”
Doug and Jake had both, which is the ultimate success in life any of us can strive for. Kindness was key among them.
That brings me to my final point, related to the work I do every day leading an organization called Unite America.
Today, we are seeing a rise in prejudice, and it’s not just based on one’s race or sexual orientation or gender. No, the rise in prejudice I’m speaking of is a prejudice based on one’s political beliefs and one’s party.
Consider the following: About 20% percent of Democrats and Republicans believe the other is not just wrong, but “evil.” Similarly, 20% of Democrats and 16% of Republicans say America would be better off if the other side “just died.”
In 1960, 5% of Americans said they would be displeased if their child married someone from another political party. Today that number is 55%. These differences should not be trivialized in a country that once fought a civil war, especially when close to 30% of Americans believe we are within five years of the next one.
I’m not making these statistics up; this is data from Gallup, Pew Research, Rasmussen, and a study by professors at LSU and Maryland.
As members of a National Social Studies Honor Society, you now represent the current and future leaders of our community and country — and what I describe is an existential threat to our democracy that you are called upon not to exacerbate by waging war against the other party but to mitigate it by building bridges between the two, however you are able.
We are entering into an election in which both sides will seek to pit us against each other and convince us we are fighting either racists or socialists who are worthy of nothing but our complete contempt.
We have a choice to either succumb to this narrative, often crafted by politicians, pundits, and social media platforms that personally benefit from our votes, our donations, and our clicks — or to rise above it.
If we choose to rise above it, we must start on personal level — not a political one. We must begin to see each other as Americans first, before we are liberals or conservatives, Democrats or Republicans. And you won’t be surprised by what it requires of us:
To be kind to others. To love our enemies.
And, especially when the fever breaks on the current hyper-polarized and partisan moment we are now in, to be ready to forgive.
Ultimately, it takes just as much energy, if not less, to build someone up, to make them feel good, to include them, to respect them, to listen and understand them — even and especially when we may fundamentally disagree — as it does to tear someone down, make them feel bad, exclude them, disrespect them, or presume you know everything about them.
Choose the former.
Be kind to others.
Love your enemies.
It will serve you, your career, and our country well.