I’m taking a break from politics to write about something which consumes me.
As a librarian, I’m always aware of my interactions with other people. It’s my job as a librarian to treat patrons with courtesy and respect. But that’s not enough. Someone could be going through a rough day, with nothing going the right way. He or she comes to me dejected or disheartened. He or she is expecting another disappointing interaction, because why not? Everything else has gone wrong today. And one kind word or action from me can lift them up out of their darkness, reminding them that the world can hold promise even in the darkness.
What I see in our current discourse is a lack of kindness. We’re quick to anger and offense. We’re quick to vitriol and harsh words. Lord knows I’m guilty of that. Considering the existential crisis we face, that might be unavoidable; kindness goes out the window when everything you treasure is threatened.
But this lack of kindness began long before Donald Trump entered the scene. Others have remarked on the long coarsening of our discourse, of our public life. Slowly, bit by bit, we stopped caring about anything or anyone who didn’t impact us personally. We’ve eschewed communal values for a hyper-individualism which says that we’re the center of the universe.
We see that in our politics, especially on the right, but also on the left. Compromise is a dirty word. Hurting perceived enemies is the order of the day. There’s no common ground, because we believe we have nothing in common.
Anyone who sees me on Twitter knows I’m guilty of this as well. And, as I said, it may be unavoidable in our current times. We are polarized to an extent we haven’t seen since the Civil War. Every issue is a matter of life and death. We can brook no opposition.
But is this a life we want to live? Do we want to be on the knife’s edge at every moment?
As a society we can’t go on like this. We can’t go on treating each other with hatred. We can’t go on treating each other with a lack of care. If we are to have any society worth living in, we have to rediscover the virtue of kindness.
This is easier said than done. This is a task of rebuilding a society which has been fractured for decades. People like the Koch Brothers are perfectly fine with this type of society; they thrive in the chaos and animus. But if we as a species are to have any chance of surviving our adolescence, we have to find some modus vivendi, some way to acknowledge each other as equals, as children of the same universe. Anything less than that and the future will be very bleak.
I close by imploring all of us to be kind to one another. Reach for the open hand rather than the clenched fist. I honestly don’t know what else can save us.
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