We are like poison to one another. That’s what I think every time I venture outside. All of us in our masks, aware, like never before, how close we are to one another. We queue up according to the stickers on the floor at the grocery store, the pharmacy, the doctor’s office. We douse ourselves in hand sanitizer and keep our distance because we are all potentially poisonous to each other.
And I can’t help thinking: is it any wonder?
The volume of hate in our world has been getting louder and louder for years now. Mass shootings and “stand your ground” laws, people caged at the border for seeking a better life. In other countries people have been expelled because their ethnic group is hated or sent to re-education camps for the sake of their religion. These behaviors are not the kind that shout love and human kindness.
On a more micro level, the vitriol in online forums is stunning, leading in some cases to suicide, physical attack and lasting trauma. Not long ago I reposted a meme on my FB wall about the protests in Portland only to be called “a piece of sh*t” by some anonymous troll. My best-read piece here on Medium has garnered lots of support but also some troll-ish remarks about both me and women in general. Yet my experience is mild by comparison.
Angry hate speech led to an unprecedented attack on our Capitol. And, in the law-and-order process of the aftermath, family members of a midwestern senator sent him a letter of shocking judgement and derision for voting as he saw fit, based on the evidence as it was presented.
It’s mind-boggling how justified people feel in their outrage. And yet this hostility has become our “new normal”. Just some examples:
Anti-maskers so vehement in their disregard for our collective well-being, they’d rather be arrested than don a face covering while they shop. Public officials who insist they are above the law and not responsible to those they represent. Well-connected, well-heeled people pushing their way to the front of the vaccine line. That’s just a sampling. I’m sure everyone has a few things to add to the list. There are more everyday.
This chaos has wrought heartbreaking tragedy. People are dead for the anger that permeates our world. People are grieving. Others have survived but are permanently changed for being targeted by this kind of vicious animosity.
But just because the world is hostile doesn’t mean we have to surrender to it. In fact, we mustn’t.
And many don’t. For every horrible story of selfish disregard there’s another of someone who went above and beyond, someone who recognized the humanity in another and chose to honor that other as if they were themselves. There are those who daily practice the golden rule: do unto others as you would have others do onto you. Like the guy who gave his pants to a homeless man. Or the man who offered his t-shirt to another man. Or the groups who have set up mutual aid networks during this pandemic. Or the woman in LA who gives food and supplies to the homeless every single weekend. This list, thankfully, goes on, too.
At my core, I believe humanity is good and kind. I just think we are all too stressed, too worried, overworked, tired and afraid. And those are the times when people’s worst impulses get the better of them.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can encourage the beauty of humanity — in ourselves and others every single day. We can practice radical human kindness. And it doesn’t take some gargantuan effort, we don’t have to solve homelessness or hunger. We can make real, tangible change in our world with the smallest effort.
“Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.” — Ovid
We can practice radical human kindness by giving a dollar to the man who begs along the highway or buying a stranger a slice of pizza, a cup of coffee. Holding the door for someone. Letting another person go ahead of you in line. Letting another car into the lane in front of you. These small little acts of goodness really do make a difference. A recent study shows that one short week of actively being kind leads to greater happiness in the do-er. Dogs know this — that’s why they are so happy all the time.
It starts in your heart. Your heart that knows what’s good and right. Your heart knows that what you learned in preschool is pretty much the best approach to life.
In our house, we created a set of rules: Be kind, be honest, do your best.
Simple words, seldom practiced by those in power these days. Seems like people are always trying to get over on others, to lie their way to the top, to take advantage and justify themselves in doing so. But as the old adage goes: “If so-and so jumped off a bridge, would you jump too?”
We have to think for ourselves. We have to practice the beauty we want to see. We set the tone for our world, and so let’s begin with us, each of us, every day, one small smile, one small nod, one small acknowledgement of the humanity of another person in this world — and let’s just see if we can’t start a revolution.
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him… We need not wait to see what others do.” — Gandhi