Kindness is in our power, even when fondness is not.
I have been thinking a lot about kindness over the last few days.
Part of this has to do with the country where I am currently situated. My experience has been that the Brazilian people, as a whole, are among some of the kindest in the world. It is considered polite, if not extremely good form, for a Brazilian to invite you to their home for a meal upon meeting you for the first time. I did not know this when I first met Elaine and took it for interest in me. Had I knownthis was just a form of Brazilian politeness who knows how far our relationship would have gone. Sometimes cultural ignorance is a good thing.
Obviously, this is in sharp contrast to the type of politeness that us New Yorkers tend to show each other. I can remember after 9.11 how polite and kind we were to each other. We realized at the time that virtually everyone you knew who lived in the city had an emotional stake in the tragedy whether from losing a person close to them or just being a part of a city that had been attacked. We took it easy on each other. We offered polite greetings with sincerity. We were gentle with the little annoyances that happen in cities that are as densely populated as New York. We opened doors and suggested people “have a nice day.” We all noted the new kinder gentler New York and wondered how long it would last because we knew the road to recovery would not begin until we got back to our old patterns of behavior.
About a month after 9.11 when crossing 72nd St at West End Avenue a cab decided to enter the crosswalk with a number of pedestrians in it including myself. He honked at us and several of us flipped him off and when he yelled fuck you he was greeted with a chorus of the same in return. I remember smiling to myself as I proceeded on our way knowing our recovery had begun. Even though the epithets hurled at that point were said in pique, there was also a particular brand of New York kindness in them as well. After all, in New York, fuck you is often said as an endearment.
But the circumstances of Covid 19 are substantially different than that of 9.11. We did not have to self-isolate after 9-11. Face to face was still the norm. Covid 19 has made us dependent on the virtual and not the real. And while some of that is still face to face using apps like Zoom, Facetime and Skype a large part of our interaction with the outside world is through social media, group chats and the like. The great things about these channels is that they allow us to share our concerns, fears, joy, and humor with our friends and family no matter where they happen to be. In the closeted environment we live in now that can be quite a relief.
However, some folks think the virtualness of social media and group chats gives them license to be ruder, less kind, than they would be in person. I suspect that the lack of physical confrontation and real consequences have something to do with that. I actually understand. I am no “Paulyana.” The fear, the frustration, uncertainty confinement and all that Covid 19 have brought us a all combined with the necessity of remaining very civil with those you are locked up with can produce the need to express yourself more directly than advisable on those medium. I have done it myself more time that I care to admit publicly.
It saddens me, deeply, that the current occupant of 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue has not helped in this regard. He has, since long before he became President, used social media as an opportunity to belittle, berate, and bully those who had the temerity to question him. It would have been wonderful (albeit a miracle) if he had decided to retire these tools for the duration and instead embraced a more welcoming, kinder message for all Americans. It would have set a tone better suited for our national crisis. It would have provided a more direct path to leaving this crisis with a better sense of national identity than when we entered it.
Sadly, perhaps tragically, he has chosen to continue with his belittling, berating, and bullying. He has more often than not fouled the national dialog. But expecting Donald Trump’s behavior or that of his die-hard supporters to change is beyond reasonable expectation.
Instead, we need to choose to be better, kinder. If he will not or cannot change then we need to show him how kindness is in our power. How showing restraint, not in what we say, but how we say things can have a positive effect on the national dialogue. Say what is needed to be said but say so in a way that allows for the humanity of others. When confronted speak from facts and the desire to inform not to destroy. That when you are trolled by those spoiling for a confrontation deny them by not replying.
John Kennedy in his speech “We Choose To Go To The Moon” said that “technology has no conscience of its own.” I agree. So, it is up to us, no matter how difficult it is, to give it one. As he said further along in the same speech we should choose to do these things “not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills”