Be Kind. Always.

I’ve been seeing this quote — or some variation — floating around the Internet for the last few days. It’s probably because of everything that’s happened to Carla and me recently, but this has really resonated.
Be kind. Always.We’ve been the recipients of many kindnesses large and small through these many months.  A lot of times it’s what’s kept me going. It’s in my nature to see a glass half-filled with water and see only a roiling pit of despair and futility.

Hey, it’s a gift.

It’s a toxic way to think and it’s been mostly through things others have done for me — things large and small, things that are part of their jobs or done just because they wanted to — that I’m anywhere near functional. I will always be grateful.

Months ago Carla wrote a piece on the culture of snobbery that I think is the other side of the coin. She talked about beer and music as things people get all holier-than-thou about, but we all know it goes deeper than that.

How much pain does a person have to be in to want to deny others small things that bring them happiness?

There’s nothing I can say and nothing that I can do that won’t attract condemnation from someone. I’m a liberal who doesn’t think much of the Obama administration. The line of people who would be happy to spit on me is a very long one. Mucus-filled, but long.

“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.  Be Kind. Always.”

That cuts both ways, doesn’t it? I may lash out at you about something because of something completely unrelated that’s bothering me. You may be lashing out at me because of something I don’t know about. I’ll feel bad later when I do it. I hope I apologize to you, but there’s a good chance I won’t. I don’t know about you.  You probably will, or would if you could. Or maybe you don’t even realize it happened?

“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.  Be Kind. Always.”

But what is kind? I live just a few miles from the infamous Creation Museum. I’ve always called it the “Moron Museum” because, to me, that’s what’s really being displayed there. If the place has done no other good it has, at least, given the impetus for Charlie Pierce‘s book Idiot America.¹ In his formulation there are three premises that define life in this country:

  • Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or otherwise moves units.
  • Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough.
  • Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is determined by how fervently they believe it.

I believe these to be true. I don’t believe that because it feels good for them to be true or that it confirms some dark suspicion I have about people. It doesn’t feel that good and I kind of wish there wasn’t so much evidence to support them. The book itself is nothing more than extended set of examples of the three premises in action.

So how am I to be kind when faced with something like the Creation Museum? Or being very liberal in an area that prides itself in opposing liberalism? (They call themselves ‘conservative’, but I can’t see what they stand for other than really, really hating people like me.) How am I to be kind? Because I think I really need to be. I like it when people are kind to me and I think I don’t really know what’s going on inside people. I don’t know what their battles are.

I think it comes down to dignity. It comes down to recognizing that other people have dignity simply by existing. Not by their actions. Not by their beliefs. Not by their color or gender or sexual preference or how they burp. And not by what I think about how they treat others. None of those things should influence how I treat others. Recognizing that others have dignity no matter what and acting accordingly is, I’m thinking at this point, the path to being kind.

I think the first thing I need to do is quit calling the Creation Museum the Moron Museum. I’ll call it the Idiocy Museum instead. It is idiocy. It’s disingenuous, willfully ignorant and claiming truth simply because they can get people to walk through the doors. Calling it the Moron Museum attacks the dignity of those who hold beliefs I think are wrong. I think those beliefs are quite definitely and demonstrably wrong, but calling the people who hold those beliefs morons denies their dignity. How can I object to attacks on my dignity if I’m willing to attack the dignity of others? People have dignity.  Ideas don’t. I don’t have to be kind to all ideas, but I think I do have to be kind to all people.

Can you separate the people from the ideas? Read this again and again:

“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.  Be Kind. Always.”

I think the struggle of being kind is understanding that people get to where they are by ways you can’t imagine. You have two choices at that point:  decide you can read minds and (what are the chances?!) conclude that you’re a better person than the other and look at them as less than human.  Or, you can take the leap and deal with them the way you’d want to be dealt with regardless of how that works out for anyone in the long run.

I can wish for kindness from others.  I can point out how they are being unkind. But nothing someone else does removes my obligation to be kind to them. If I can help them fight their battle, great. Often I cannot. I can still be kind, though.


¹ Based on an earlier Esquire article that can be found here.