This week, there have been a great many tense moments. My news feed has been flooded with images that horrify and hurt me. As well, I’ve taken in the vituperative invective being dished out on all sides related to those moments. Several of my friends have voiced a general disgust in humanity, sometimes more specifically aimed. Others feel hopelessness as a response. I feel it too, perhaps more so, because I’ve been researching the rise of militarization among domestic police departments in America over the last thirty years. It’s enough to make me want to go full on Hermit, shut the door, break my phone, and put my computer in the fridge. That’s not practical and won’t do anything to solve what I see going awry. I just won’t have to look at it.
Lonely Is Asking to Be Seen
At this time of the year, every possible form of media vomits messages of cheer and good will all over you at every turn. It can be downright loathsome when this season of light is blatantly used as a marketing ploy. But even in the most earnest communication of sharing and giving, I find that it’s all too often directed at being nice to people we already know. Because your second cousin in Pasadena that you don’t talk to for 11 months out of the year really appreciates that Christmas Card, but I don’t think they’re fooled.
What about those who have no family? What about those who are spending this season alone? While I would urge kindness and giving all year round, I think it’s probably especially crucial in the coming weeks. Loneliness can be endured most days by just focusing on other aspects of life. But when, everywhere you turn, you see nothing but messages about how you’re supposed to be spending it with the ones you love, and you realize you don’t have anyone to spend time with…what does that do to you?
We can get pretty wrapped up in our own little dramas–our personal narratives and needs–and we seldom take the time to look beyond that sphere, to meet the eyes of a stranger and exchange a few words of simple kindness. With all the news of what my mother has always termed “people being ugly to each other,” it can make individuals put on a shell, shut out the concerns of others, focus on the immediate needs of those closest to us. That is precisely the opposite of what will be helpful.
Empathy Has No Bank Account and Kindness No Street Address
It doesn’t cost you anything to be kind to others. I know it can be difficult to remember, given all the pressing concerns on your plate each day. By kindness, I don’t mean smarm or syrupy, cutesy behavior. I’m one of the least nice people I know, and I can be pretty tough to take sometimes, but I try to be kind, if only by my own definition. I wouldn’t turn away my worst enemy if they needed help and had nowhere else to go. It has nothing to do with niceness.
Simple kindness has no last name, no skin color, and no ulterior agenda. It’s not about notice or credit for a good deed done. It’s not about going to church or temple or making pilgrimages. It’s as simple as saying hello and smiling at someone–and it might actually save someone’s life or more importantly, their ability to empathize with other human beings.
What I’d Like From All of You
It’s early yet to be asking for a birthday present, but I’m going to go ahead and put my request out there. My birthday falls on a Monday this year–December 8th, my favorite holiday, naturally. I’ve made my plans to pitch in a few hours with some community projects that week, and I’ll be giving blood on my birthday. (No, that’s not a look-at-me statement, be patient.) I’m going to ask for a huge favor from everyone who reads this, whether you love me or hate me, have known me for decades or will never shake my hand.
Make plans sometime in the near future to do something kind, something helpful, something that contributes the the sum total of the light in the world. It could be anything. Buy a stranger who looks cold and flat broke a cup of coffee or tea. Donate an hour at the community food bank sorting donations or volunteer to help distribute blankets or coats in your city. Give blood, answer phones, read aloud to small children or the elderly, chaperone the seniors field trip to see Christmas light displays, or endure an hour of wanting to adopt 83 different animals when you volunteer at the Humane Society.
This is just one small thing I’m asking for from you. I might wish that you’d do it at other times of year, but I only get one birthday, so it’ll have to be now. I don’t need to know what you did or if you did–unless you have an awesome or unintentionally hilarious experience, then of course I want to hear all about it. The point is–I’m not trying to pull any stunts. I don’t care if you ever let on to me that you read this. But I hear people say, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to volunteer/give blood/help out, but I never have.” Why not?
When you see in your world the sadness/horribleness/whateverness or the deplorable state of (fill in the blank), you have to know that your inaction is at least partially responsible. Wanting to make the world a better place or people kinder to each other won’t get the job done. We all too often leave it to someone else or rely on Agencies or Governments to solve the problems of this nature. Well, when they don’t I don’t think it’s entirely reasonable to blame them–who was there helping them distribute food, shelter, coats, a bit of conversation? Who was there to talk that person off the bridge, leave an ambiguous holiday card in their box, or compliment their aged pet and stop to chat for five minutes? You weren’t.
That’s what I’m asking for. A bit of caring, a few minutes of real kindness and concern for others who can never repay you, an hour in a year. Pass this on. Even if you don’t buy into this weird concept of altruism–someone you know just might. This might be the best news you’ve given them all year.