Here we believe: Love is Love. No Human is Illegal. Black Lives Matter. Science is Real. Women’s Rights are Human Rights. Water is Life. Kindness is Everything.
I love seeing this lawn sign. What a beautifully concise articulation of what we stand for, of the world we want to see. It stands in sharp contrast to the fear and hate of the reactionary backlash defining the world today.
As I spend my days in progressive circles, privileged to spend time with people committed to a movement that can redeem our country and help save the world, it is crystal clear to me that this sign names the core platform that we are fighting for. Queer and trans liberation. The liberation of migrant people. The liberation of Black people. Governance grounded in reason. The liberation of women. The end of an extraction economy and right relationships with the planet. These are evidently true.
But what about kindness?
I see less kindness.
I feel less kindness.
But it is only kindness that can hold it all together. The world that we want to bring into being will not be a series of public policy abstractions. It is a world that can only become real in the ways that we live our relationships with one another.
We are not kind to each other. And we dehumanize the other. We might have tiny pockets of folk that are deemed worthy of our care and kindness, but that circle tends to be too small.
Movement spaces are fraught with the possibility of the “call out.” The energy is paralyzing. We all want to belong. So we are scared. We are scared to say the wrong thing. We toe an ever more narrow ideological line, we make dissent impossible, and adherence to our “truth” is the only way to be good.
I defined movement fundamentalism in a recent post. But here is Wikipedia’s take on Fundamentalism’s broader form:
Fundamentalism usually has a religious connotation that indicates unwavering attachment to a set of irreducible beliefs. However, fundamentalism has come to be applied to a tendency among certain groups—mainly, though not exclusively, in religion—that is characterized by a markedly strict literalism as it is applied to certain specific scriptures, dogmas, or ideologies, and a strong sense of the importance of maintaining ingroup and outgroup distinctions... Rejection of diversity of opinion as applied to these established "fundamentals" and their accepted interpretation within the group is often the result of this tendency.
I spend a lot of time grappling with this. When I read the words on the lawn sign I find them undebatable. I do not want to give an inch. These are my strongly held beliefs. They are what I teach my son to be true. I am working towards a day when these words no longer articulate a dream or wish, but they name what our country actually is.
This is why kindness is important. Because kindness is not the same as negotiating away our values. Kindness is a way, kindness is the way, to live our way into them.
Communities defined by kindness are communities that attract and inspire, they are communities that grow and that learn. In communities defined by kindness people are not afraid to explore ideas that might initially feel out of place. A community that is defined by kindness is not a place that pretends to carry justice in the form of social media mobs, accountability is not confused with the destruction and erasure of the people who are said to have done wrong.
“My religion is kindness,” is what the Dalai Lama says. And it is the compassionate kindness of so many Catholic nuns that will always rise in protest each time the state kills a human in the mockery of justice that is capital punishment.
But ours is not a culture that lifts up the grace of these virtues. We each have our megaphone, we’ve each become desktop pundits. Our religion is being right. Our religion is not kind. We will reduce, we will oversimplify, we will judge, we will scream from our keyboards, and we continue to poison the world as we forge our bonds of outrage.
Kindness is the way though. We must practice it at home. We must practice it as we encounter each other. We must practice kindness in our meetings, gatherings and actions. We must practice it when someone says something that does not fit the dogma. We must practice it when we encounter someone that does not yet know what we think they should have learned a long time ago, We must practice it with those who are blinded by privilege. And we must practice it when someone has done harm and must be held accountable.
We must practice kindness with the other side, even in the face of fear, hate and vitriol. We must learn that most folks are just too scared, that they are deeply culturally conditioned, bred to see things in a warped way since they were children, that they were taught a terrible lie about what our country is and must be.
Our screams will not change them. Our hate will make them to hold on stronger and tighter to the lie that they’ve bought into. It is only our kindness that will change them.
I’m not just talking about reciprocal kindness. I’m also talking about kindness towards those who are not kind. I’m not inviting anyone to let go of healthy boundaries, or to put themselves in harm’s way absent a political aim. I’m speaking of a kindness that wells up within the heart, that is nurtured, practiced and cultivated.
I’m speaking of a kindness that holds true even when we are tired, or we’ve been hurt too many times, or our emotional labor feels like too much. It holds true even then, because it is only this kindness that can drown out our own hate. And we have all seen enough to be tempted to justify hate. This hate knows its place within us and it can blind us at any time.
Kindness is a practice. It is something to get better at. It is our protection from hate and its poison. It is a way to look at the world, and a way to walk in it. It is an experience that those around us can have when they come near. It is what makes human relations real.
The political arena is an over simplified field. Government and policy can turn on a single vote. It has to be as clear as “yes or no.” When the space is black and white vote for freedom every time. Fight for freedom every time.
But democracy is more than the sporadic episode of the vote. We are more. So much more.
We are more than armchair pundits. We are more than the self-righteous inquisitors of the church of social justice. We are more than our idea of an impossible perfection.
We are human beings walking this earth with each other, and kindness is what gets us through.