What is left of the world when wicked men have had their way, and indoctrinated followers raise voices and fists to further their message of hate and fear?
What is left of the world when global illness and death have no sway over those who claim “freedom” includes their right to selfishness and lack of compassion?
What is left of a world when lies become the lexicon, corruption becomes the norm, and weak people propagandize to weaker people who end up believing in both?
What is left of the world?
Kindness. Goodness. Truth. Compassion. All are still there, existing between the corroded lines of gaslighting screeds, violent bigotry, and blind fealty to demagogues, pushing up like hearty stalks that split cement, vibrant and robust despite resistance. There are, in fact, so many good, kind people in the world that we can have faith in notions of change and progress. We see it all around us.
They would have you believe otherwise, those who’ve perpetuated the hate, fear, and lies that have caterwauled from too many corners of our country. But they’re wrong; they’re the liars and cheats, so they would try to convince you otherwise. Don’t believe them.
It’s taken the unholy stew of social media (giving anyone with Internet access a pulpit), 24/7 cable “news” (giving chaos agents the same), and an administration built and supported by compromised men and women (who converted the White House into their own den of ignominy) to turn this country into a place where trending personality types include bullies, bigots, criminals, sociopaths, liars, and those who forgive those traits as if they were forgivable.
There’s debate over whether Donald Trump created, inspired, triggered, or simply ushered in the very worst amongst us, but whatever spin is true, they are here now, that “worst,” seated at the table to which he invited them, embedded in our government, plotting kidnappings, attacking protesters, shooting persons of color, caging immigrant children, stealing our tax dollars, corrupting our government agencies, doing the bidding of despots (including the current POTUS), and otherwise toxifying the American experiment, as someone put it the other day.
As experiments go, this one could use a tweak.
Watching duly elected senators and representatives, members of our very own United States Congress, snark, snarl, and name-call on Twitter like snotty twelve-year-olds misguided about their intellect and importance has proven just how base even the supposed best amongst us can get. Listening to hordes of the indoctrinated screeching back the lies they’ve been fed about the recent election or pandemic science makes clear just how dangerous cultism can be. Observing daily diatribes of right wing media spewing utter nonsense in fealty to a person so corrupt even corrupt people are in awe reminds us of how corrosive media can be when allowed to.
In the midst of all that madness, luckily in numbers that outnumber them, are the millions of kind people, good people; people who care enough about their fellow humans to wear a damn mask and observe social distancing. People who work long hours at risk to themselves and their families to care for the sick, even those who flouted precautions and denied the efficacy of science. People who parent needy children, care for the elderly, administer schools, continue to create beautiful things, research important advances, and promote environmental improvements. People who run for government because they actually want to make life better for their constituents rather than use it to enrich and aggrandize themselves, their families, and cronies. People who are passionate about creating racial equity in our divided society, who see immigrants as essential members of our diverse landscape; people who listen and speak with consideration, respect, and civility. People who refuse to reject truth to further lies and self-serving agendas.
These people outnumber them.
Yet in a society where clickbait rules and madness gets the attention, we spend so much time reading about, listening to, recoiling at; analyzing, reacting, and responding to the despicable, heinous words and deeds of the soon-to-be-banished president and cabal of sycophants and lackeys who enable and prop him up that we’ve sickened ourselves, literally and figuratively. We’re immersed in it, overwhelmed by it, to the point that it’s almost impossible to believe good people, kind people, honest people actually exist out there. We don’t hear as much about them; they’re not as interesting, it seems; they don’t inspire as many clicks and read-throughs.
Sadly, that won’t likely change. Our culture is too entrenched in the trend of tabloid titillation. Train wrecks, car crashes, and sex scandals will always garner more curiosity amongst those for whom news is entertainment. No, the only way to inject some balance into that equation is to not only be that kind, good person, but to share and engage with those who also fit the description. Make a pact to not only rant, rail, and act against injustice, dishonesty, and corruption, but to also shine as much light as possible on the kind people, the good people, the honest, productive, life-changing, planet-saving, uplifting, integrity-inspiring people who vastly outnumber the worst amongst us who do get the headlines. Let’s make our own headlines for something other than notoriety and scandal.
In fact, let’s make kindness trend.
We have a plate-shifting change coming up, one that starts on January 20th, 12:01 pm, when the “ousting of evil” will bring induction of an administration whose foundation is built on kindness and honesty. Yes, there will still be mistakes, problems, disagreements, policy arguments; everything endemic to an administration administering to a very diverse and disparate electorate. But there is no doubt that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris break from the trends of the last four years, the trends of corrosiveness, self-service, treachery, and mendacity, to usher in their own trends of diversity, experience, skill, open-mindedness, decorum, respect, consideration, inclusion, integrity, honesty, and yes… kindness.
Let’s make all that trend. Let’s make all that the loudest noise and biggest headlines. We’ve had four years of the other and it’s just about killed us. It’s past time to invite kindness to the table.
KINDNESS by Naomi Shihab Nye
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye.