The Kindness We Seek


While watching an interview the other day, I happened upon this moment when the host made a reference to the interviewer’s looks. The guest was a man, so I guess the female host felt it was okay to mock a man’s looks in a way she would never mock the looks of a woman guest.

The guest shrugged off her remarks in a way that you do when you don’t want to make others feel uncomfortable for the hurtful thing they just said to you. He showed the manners this host lacked. I could tell that he felt slighted. He made a remark about how he had a face for radio. Self-depreciation is the gift we give others to keep from inflicting shame on them.

What struck me while watching this was what an unkind act this had been on behalf of the host. It was just plain mean. This man had held a dignified position and she undercut all that dignity for a cheap joke that was nowhere near funny.

I have felt the same way over the memes that have circulated over some of the hats worn at the Royal Wedding this past weekend. In particular, I have seen some really unkind memes regarding Camilla’s hat.

Maybe it’s because I often see the opposite behavior that these sorts of things stand out in stark contrast. While walking across a school campus yesterday, I saw a male student walk over and hug another male student. Just embraced him right there in front of God and everybody in that bear hug kind of way, for no particular reason other than the sun was shining and it was a beautiful day.

I watched as two other students passing exchanged a handshake with one another, just reach out and shake hands in a gentleman’s greeting. There was something beautiful to me in that moment. That act of acknowledging the respect each had for the other.

A handshake. A hug. These are acts of respect and kindness.

Years ago, Tim and I were going through a particularly hard time in our marriage. It was rough. I wasn’t at all sure we were going to make it to these 40 years we are celebrating this August. I wasn’t even sure we’d make it to 20. I can’t recall exactly how we arrived at this moment – whether through the prayers of friends, the counselor we were seeing, or just our own wrangling with each other – but there came a point where we both realized that our humor, often cutting, was being used as weapons. Our sarcasm was acid on our hearts and spirits. It’s not that we got shed of our humor – trust me – it’s just that we made a conscious effort to quit directing that acerbic wit at each other.

We made up our minds to be kinder to each other. To be more respectful, less cutting. Things we found funny in our immaturity no longer humored us. We realized we need to be each other’s defender. I have always maintained that in order to truly love a person, you need to first of all respect them. To dignify their worth as human beings.

A disclaimer here. There are those hellbent on not being dignified. Hellbent on not dignifying the worth of others. Hellbent on doing everything in their power to demean others and to crush them under their heels. I got no use for people like that. You can love them all you want. I will call them out on that and then I will avoid them like the plague they are. Sometimes, if they are brutish enough to enough people, I will pray for their demise and I will not feel guilty for that. We are to resist evil, especially when it’s wearing a two-piece suit.

Generally speaking, though, it pains me to see the large and small ways in which unkindness has become the order of the day. The casual meme that mocks another. (Yes, I’ve used them, too). This shaming another for the way they look (something most of us at least make some efforts to improve on). This incessant need we have to elevate ourselves by putting others down. The name-calling. The outright cussing out.  It really does feel as though the demons have been unleashed and they have multiplied seven times seventy.

On a chalkboard in my kitchen I wrote a dictum several months ago: Make 2018 a year of kindness. I have failed at this already, yet, I have had some wins in this area, too. We are walking juxtapositions, each one of us.

You probably have heard of the poem, Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye.  But maybe you didn’t know that the poem came about after she and her husband were robbed on their honeymoon and saw a fellow traveler slain.

Perhaps, the reason the handshake and the hug between students on campus caught my attention this week is because of the daily barrage of ways in which this administration and Trump in particular is refusing to dignify the worth of others, the ways in which he and his people are hellbent on destroying people and lands and air and the democracy as we have known it.

The young people of today seem to possess the heart that so many in this administration lack. On occasion, I get to witness their respect for each other, their kindness to one another. The way they dignify each other.

It just makes me want to go around hugging on everybody.


Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952

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.



Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.

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