There is no such thing as a bad time for kindness but it seems more important than ever in our current climate. In just one recent example, the New York Times published an article this week titled, “The Scope of Hate in 2016,” by Anna North, citing that “The Southern Poverty Law Center had found more than 1,000 reports of hate incidents since the election,” a number deemed by the organization to be “unusually high.”
Not long ago, I thought maybe this project had run its course. Maybe it was just a fun experiment, not only in the way that kindness could be a medium for art, but also in blurring the boundaries — between author and audience, artist and viewer, giver and receiver — but one that was done. And then our presidential election happened and, not long after, I realized that this project was not complete.
There is always a need for kindness, but also — less obviously, but specifically now — for recognizing and supporting the kind of quiet strength that is metaphorically and, sometimes, literally, referred to as feminine: It is the kind of power that puts connections before individuals and kindness above power.
Times like these cast the seeming sweetness of this approach into stark relief. An act of kindness is powerful. It can be wielded as a tool for change and a means of everyday activism. The power of stepping back rather than stepping forward, offering rather than taking, has heightened meaning now.
Real kindness is radical acceptance of the other as equal to your own self and kin. Real kindness is deep and, sometimes, sacrificial. It isn’t always convenient or easy but it’s the right thing to do. Though it might feel sweet and frothy in practice — it feels good to be kind — kindness is anything but lightweight; it is a means to personal and communal change that carries even more power in difficult times.
As we move into this next year, fraught with tensions and anxieties for so many of us — women, Muslims, people of color, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, and more — I want to suggest that we reconsider this simplistic view of kindness and recast its role in our daily lives. Each of us possesses the potential to watch out for one another, to protect the vulnerable and to speak out for the oppressed.
These are tools for radical change. It might be slow but it has a big impact. I encourage you to reconsider what kindness means, to act on that, and then post your response in the comments. I look forward to hearing from you. (Of course, you can also still fold butterflies with acts of kindness, too!)