OPED: Kindness is what is needed today
I worry in spite of the many things that I am blessed with in my life. I worry that I might become less relevant in the lives of my children and grandchildren. Their value to me has been very sustaining over these many years. This is the cornerstone, in my opinion, of the meaning and purpose component that defines our sense of self efficacy.
People who study civilizations and cultures on a grand scale are often charged with the task of understanding the most important factors in a successful and enduring culture. Surprisingly enough, it is not wealth or military power, or even the speed of our Internet. It is the degree to which a culture or civilization venerates their elderly and their children. When we venerate our elderly and our children it is said to reflect a true respect for our past as well as our future.
I have four adult children and three grandchildren. Maria gets off her school bus at my house, running with a big smile, filled with excitement to share the day’s adventures. She seemed somewhat preoccupied one day recently so I asked her if she had something on her mind. She told me of another elementary student on her bus with whom she would like to become friends. She told me that each day she would wave and smile at this student, but the student never returned either.
“Why is it pop-pop, that this person won’t wave or smile at me? It makes me sad” Now this is quite an existential moment, made more so by the fact that Ms Maria just turned six years old last month. As she asks me this her brow is furrowed and her piercing blue eyes are focused awaiting my response.
Perhaps this person is shy or didn’t hear or see your kind gestures, I said. Maria said that she was going to stop waving and smiling because it made her sad to have her kindness go unrequited (my word not hers). Your intentions were to be kind and kind you were and that would never be a bad thing. I am very proud of you because you take the time from your busy day to be kind.
I then told her a story about my mother and her great grandmother who she had never met. She grew up in an orphanage because her mother had died when she was only five years old, approximately Maria’s age. She was one of six children, five girls and one boy. My mom lived until her mid-90s and always found it impossible to discuss these ten years of her life because they were so painful.
Every Friday evening for more than 25 years, I would call her at 7 p.m. I worked with children in an institutional setting. Each conversation started the same way. “How are the boys? Are they behaving? Do they get enough to eat? And then the big one: “Are you kind to them? Please always be kind to them. Never underestimate the impact on a child’s life as a result of what they see and what they hear.” These were her core beliefs that made an unbearable time in her life less so. A century has passed since my mom was admitted to that orphanage. She longed for kindness in a place where there was none to be found. I now sit at a table with another beautiful soul trying to understand.
My granddaughter should be wrestling with other developmental challenges like the days of the week, months of the year, telling time and the proper way to eat Oreos.
“The greatest problems we experience in life are never truly solved, just endured” a quote attributed to Carl Jung. Stanislav Malinowski (early 20th century) became an anthropologist before it was an actual field of academic endeavor. He is attributed with the quote that “humans create meaning systems (religions and faith systems) to explain the differences between their aspirations and their realities”.
We live in a time of rigid thinking and political ideologies. Endorsement of one precludes patience or understanding of another. Politicians cannibalizing one another, a complete lack of respect for person and/or position and at least the appearance that the widening gap between the rich and the rest of us is OK.
We need to be kind to each other, take care of Americans with all of the resources at our disposal. ISIS, ISIL, China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea are, in my opinion, inconsequential to the domestic challenges that we face. Kindness is palliative, it is free, it grows in every child’s and aging person’s heart, it is authentically human, and it eases the pain of not getting all of what you deserve. It elevates your opinion or assessment of the person you are interacting with. It carries us safely through difficult times when no other resources were at hand. Who has ever felt worse after experiencing a random act of kindness?
For many reasons it is a good idea to try to understand other peoples’ perspective. We need not agree, just try to understand. When we act in accordance with our belief systems it brings us comfort and repose. The process of how we develop these belief systems is not always as clear.
Sam Harris, in his book, “The End of Faith” wrote the following; “The human brain is a prolific generator in beliefs about the world. In fact, the very humanness of any brain consists largely of its capacity to evaluate new statements of propositional truth in light of innumerable others that it already accepts. By recourse to intuitions of truth and falsity, logical necessity, and contradictions, human beings are able to knit together private visions of the world that largely cohere. What neural events underlie this process? What must a brain do in order to believe that a given statement is true or false? We currently have no idea.”
"Kindness is a virtue, patience is a virtue and virtue is its own reward” These may seem like tired old bromides that have little application in this time of vitriolic rants. Could be that they are more important now than they have ever been. Might be time to get to venerating!
As C.S. Lewis once (at least) said, “Virtue, even attempted virtue, brings light, indulgence brings fog.”