I would like to be kind.
I don’t think I’m cruel, not often hurtful, sometimes sardonic or cutting, rarely ad hominem. But kindness is much more than absence of cruelty. It involves reaching out, sensing what’s felt and trying to ease it or at least acknowledge it—at least let it be known that you hear it.
My instinct is that of a repairman: see something wrong and fix it. That was my shortcoming the few years I was teaching: you build from the positive, not from knocking down the negative. I could get caught in that trap as a director, but the best times were when I was able to evoke something in the actors and the actors in me. My best times have been when doing interviews for public radio series we produced: just being able to promote the flow of people’s stories. Not to cure them or promote them: simply to midwife the voice.
I’m a very shy person, and it’s worse with age. I see few people, talk to few beyond “Sixteen ounce Americano, room for milk.” Facebook is a snare. Good that I connect with people I wouldn’t otherwise have an excuse for connecting with—being hyper-reclusive—but difficult in that it evokes my dentist’s instinct for going after cavities.
I perpetually get into hassles with people whose politics I agree with totally but whose language or tactics I feel are counterproductive. They seem to have no tolerance for anything less than violence: if you don’t counter hate with enlightened hate, you’re part of the problem.
That’s another conversation entirely, but I state it here because it traps me into a tone I don’t want. In the long run, I think it’s greater service to say “Happy birthday,” and when you can, to commiserate with someone, to say, “My heart is with you.” Even (very sparingly) to risk advice. To share yourself.
I don’t disparage Facebook activists, though I sometimes wonder whether their activism is confined to posts on Facebook. But far be it from me, whose service to humankind involves writing novels that few people read, to criticize ANY means of improving the human condition, or even that of rabbits.
My focus is simply this: how can I be kind?
One interviewee on our last radio series had founded a hyper-grassroots charity, finding ways he could make a difference in people’s lives (in other countries) with gifts of $100 or $50 or $5. He spoke of a frequent criticism (from friends) of his efforts: it’s a Band-Aid, it’s one family, it does nothing to address a world of suffering. Yes, he said, true, but for that one family, it’s goddamned meaningful. Words can do the same.
And a friend wrote a play that we produced. ACTS OF KINDNESS. And at our last horned-moon ritual, I praised my mate Elizabeth for her kindness to many—not something that came naturally to her but evolved over the years. Those words were themselves a kindness. I hope for more.
As someone who was raised on various portions sarcasm, humiliation, anger, and just plain indifference, kindness did not come naturally to me. Only in the last 1/3 or so of my life, I’ve tried to do it better. It’s a struggle for my heart, but worth it.