It turns out that I’ve been wrong about the value of kindness for most of my life.
Not in the way where I’ve dismissed it and been an intentional jerk or anything; I guess I just thought of kindness as being nice or simply lacking malice. And nice is fine. But I perceived other things as more valuable — like being powerful or funny or successful or attractive. Those attributes are what empower folks to move through life with the greatest impact.
But actually, it wasn’t until bringing a mini human into the world that I really reconsidered what characteristics are most important — the ones we, as parents, would focus our limited influence on to hopefully have our child manifest.
Resilience, as a fundamental attribute, didn’t surprise me. But kindness did. More than happy, more than smart, my wife and I were so drawn to “nice”?
Even without fully understanding it, we went all in. It’s made us particular about what media our son can consume (if it’s not educational, someone has to be saving the day — which, much to Harvey’s chagrin, eliminates “Garfield” and all its fat jokes), we’re careful to provide age-appropriate context about our part in the social justice reckoning, and we constantly talk about the value of helping others and taking good care of ourselves.
The answer to “why kindness?” has been becoming clearer to me as I watch, sometimes in painful horror, our world face what seems like a devastating crisis of kindness — maybe of epic proportions. A drought of goodwill from the blazing heat of our increasingly polarized world.
There’s a minority who benefit from our discord. They’re the politicians who profit from us hating each other. And the industries who profit from us hating ourselves. They fill their pockets with the currency of our fear and hope to strip us of the power to fundamentally change the systems that have led to our division and inequity in the first place.
But lots of us aren’t having it. We see the need for a pretty serious course correction if we want to avoid division and hate or even ignorance and indifference.
So, we’re choosing a different path, one cleared by (you guessed it) good old-fashioned kindness.
The thing is, kindness isn’t some pastel, half-caff version of another more demonstrative or measurable ideal. It’s not just the absence of meanness. It’s the purposeful energy dedicated to supporting, understanding, celebrating, including, acknowledging and honoring someone.
Kindness is radical, revolutionary even, in this moment when our division has so much momentum.
So many of us face intense and ongoing reasons to feel scared and angry, and our indignation is often warranted. I’m not suggesting anyone should suspend their emotional responses to the heartache of living in a world where certain lives are threatened every day. But we can be smarter than to be sucked into the narrative that our reactions should be equally vitriolic.
That’s why kindness is so profound. It breaks the destructive cycle.
And I’m noticing that for every injustice, the courageously kind are still managing to muster a groundswell of love and hope. It’s the Black Lives Matter movement, the Stop Asian Hate movement, Holocaust remembrance rituals, LGBTQ pride, feminism, wearing a mask when it’s not mandated, and working to address the climate crisis.
It’s overwhelming my sometimes world-weary heart.
I’m understanding that kindness is always mighty. And that kindness in the face of oppression, greed and threat is herculean.
I see people rising up as heroes all around me — here in Utah, across the nation and the world — to fill any kindness vacuums with their genuine dedication to see others, understand others and figure out how to disagree without becoming mortal enemies.
It turns out, this is not the crisis I previously feared; it’s a rebellion — a revolt of radical kindness despite all pressure to fight. I’ve had my eyes on the arid desert, but what’s rolling in are clouds heavy with precipitation.
And my family and I are ready to get soaked.
— Marina Gomberg is a communications professional and lives in Salt Lake City with her wife, Elenor Gomberg, and their son, Harvey. You can reach Marina at firstname.lastname@example.org.