I apologize in advance if this post seems a little obtuse or esoteric. Though some who know me may be potentially surprised by this, one of the most essential components I consider when trying to connect with someone is their kindness and empathy. I mention “potential surprise” because I tend to have a very cutting, dry, sarcastic sense of humor. I highly enjoy banter, conflicting arguments, and acerbic wits. But perhaps approaching middle age is mellowing me, or at the very least making me feel more comfortable publicly seeking out certain other qualities in the people, like kindness, that I allow into my life.
I mention this because I see the disturbing, consistently denigrating vibe in America these days. And I doubt I’m alone. I expose myself to it intentionally — sometimes from a desire to interact with people who think differently than I do; sometimes as catharsis to validate the foundation of my own views; sometimes reluctantly, almost shutting my eyes as I click on a comments section. The latter has gotten me very down lately. I live in southeast Wisconsin, an area that could be defined as “purple” politically as any part of the country can be. We have the most conservative of conservatives and the most liberal of liberals here, with most people falling in the middle somewhere, like much of America. Our local paper, owned by Gannett, does its best to bring moderate views and objective reporting to its readers. When I see a headline that seems centrist and level-headed, I click on the comments, but then I close my eyes and think of England as I witness the torrent of anger and intolerance to come.
The advent of the Trump era has led to a hyperbolic, flat-out embrace of our ugliest views in a way unseen in my lifetime. Though I certainly feel, biased as I am, that the majority of the negativity and hateful views come from the far right, I can feel it coming from moderates and progressives as well. Progressives are fighting about how aggressive is too aggressive; the language is vitriolic within the warring factions, with those who want to push as vigorously and, yes, as violently as possible for change looking down on those who favor a more peaceable approach. This is despite the fact that violent protest almost never works — and that peaceful protest, while not always successful, is still the single most powerful vehicle for change in the modern era.
But this is about more than protest ideals and media feedback. There’s something…off. Many people I talk to feel it’s because those with views that lean more binary on issues like race, politics, immigration and misogyny feel unfettered as never before with the ascendance of this president. The irony is not lost on me or on many others that those individuals on the far right who used to claim an almost obsessive, possessive ownership of conservative Christianity are now betraying those very same tenets with their politics, their votes, their lack of kindness. Given how Christ felt about hypocrites, according to New Testament, I’ll leave final judgment to others. Or Other, if you go in for that sort of thing.
The hypocrisy metastasizing across the nation — and either implicitly or overtly championed by this White House — cannot be omitted from the circle of blame. There’s also a degree to this that is internal. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves,” the Bard tells us. I only know what I know from experience: that kindness begets kindness. I often tell my son that I don’t care if he’s rich or successful or even talented or smart, as long as he’s kind and thinks of others once in a while. So far he’s held that up as an integral part of his character. “Hate” is, by any definition, a four-letter word in our house, and he’s not permitted to use it in the context of how he feels about something. We’ve had good talks about the election, Charlottesville, Nazis (both neo- and original), misogyny and bigotry. This inspires me to think that we maybe have a chance to take a breath as a nation. If we see the best of ourselves in our children, maybe we’ll remember that hate is taught. If we can go back to that innocence, to kindness — some would say naivete — maybe we can look across the aisle at our opponents and try to get to the core of why they’ve developed their belief systems in the first place. Is it such a difficult concept in President Trump’s America to suggest that Occam’s Razor may apply? Show kindness. Whenever you can.