A few months ago, someone left a note on my car: “PLEASE, PLEASE STOP PARKING YOUR CAR ON FELL STREET OR TURN OFF YOUR CAR ALARM!” When I saw the note, I thought, “What the hell? What’s their problem?” I should feel bad that my car alarm was disruptive, but honestly, I didn’t. Who are they to tell me where I should or should not park? My car alarm triggered accidentally… or someone was trying to steal my car, and they’re suggesting I should shut down my car alarm? I was annoyed, but I shrugged it off, and continued to park on Fell Street.
Two weeks later, another note appeared on my car. It said:
“Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but walking out of my flat, I noticed a nail in your front right tire facing the curb. 🙁 FYI, don’t pull it out (I’ve done that). Leave it till you get to a tire shop and an internal patch superior to a plug. Best, Brian.”
I thought, “Wow, how kind of them.” I immediately thought of the note from a couple weeks earlier that was still sitting on the floor of my passenger seat. Looking at the two notes, I marveled at how people choose to use their time. The first note chose to take time out of their day to make demands out of bitterness, which did not result in any change in my behavior. The second note was kind and helpful, something he didn’t have to do. Brian was leaving his flat and he could have seen the nail on my car and thought, “Not my problem” and left. Instead, he chose to inform me of the hazard and a recommendation which, as a complete car dud, I totally appreciate.
The notes have me thinking about kindness. Where is it? What happened to it? And can we bring it back? Unfortunately, kindness seems to be a concept of a bygone era. It makes me feel old to have to talk about it. Get me a rocking chair and a bowl of Werther’s Originals, “Gather ’round children, and let me tell you about kindness!”
When I was a kid in the ’80s, kindness was a thing. Perhaps it’s Blockbuster’s “Be kind, please rewind” that brainwashed me as I did my due diligence before returning my VHS rental. But it seemed like kindness was often a lesson in the plots of cheesy ’80s sitcoms. Shows like Full House, Growing Pains, Family Matters taught the value of simple everyday kindness. Where is Uncle Jesse to teach us that mild rebellion is cool, but we shall still be kind to others, even if it means we look slightly less cool? Instead, Aunt Becky is a criminal who didn’t know bribery is not OK. (Before you say it, touché, thank god for Fuller House!)
Cheesy sitcoms are still out there, but no one’s interested. We now opt for reality TV and drama. No one wants to watch unless there’s extreme dissonance — people telling each other off, plot twists, and people being truly awful to each other. On the one hand, these types of shows help people feel empowered, encouraging them to “speak their truth” and take action to better their lives. Now that we live more empowered lives, it’s like we’ve forgotten that the person we’re telling off is a real person. We’ve forgotten that kindness is a thing!
Looking at the notes side by side, I can see how kindness is a choice. The first note took time to put bitterness into the world. They attempted to “speak their truth,” but just ended up blaming in the end. And, who responds well to being blamed? It’s ineffective on its best days. Nevertheless, this kind of hatefulness is par for the course in our world that believes force, demanding, and arm-twisting is the only way to create change.
The second note, on the other hand, took the time to put kindness into the world. With all that’s going on in the world, it may seem naive to give that second note the time of day. After all, we’ve got real issues to contend with.
As a recovering cynic myself, I know the rational trap those of us sensitive to the world’s problems fall into: “We need real action, real solutions! Who’s got time to write kind notes?” This is true — those in power need to get their shit together, and we can encourage them to do so.
But, not all of us have the resources, personality, or skill to create change on a massive scale. We have a shared narrative that if it’s not big and dramatic, then it’s not worth doing. When we blindly follow this “go big or go home” mindset, we start running some dangerous calculations: What’s the ROI on being kind? Who cares if it won’t be big (and get me noticed)? What’s in it for me?
The thing about doing the kind thing, especially with strangers, is that we may not know what happens in the end. We’ve gotten ourselves into a world where a like, a heart, a comment back, is essential to our fragile egos. Without a way to track kindness, to know that I did something, we opt out of doing the kind thing at all.
Regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, political viewpoint, iPhone or Android, Cardi B or Nicki Minaj, we can be kind to each other. I’m going to be honest here: It’s unsettling to me that what I just said — “Let’s be kind to each other” — could have me canceled due to the mere mention of extending kindness to people I disagree with.
But, that’s my exact point: We don’t know how to be kind anymore. We’ve forgotten that behind every mistake, viewpoint, misunderstanding, gaff, boo-boo, faux-pas, or Cardi B fan is a human person. (Side note: I am absolutely nonpartisan on the Cardi v. Nicki debate.)
You know what’s the hardest bit to swallow? This harshness isn’t just a reflection of how we treat others, but how we treat ourselves. To quote the great Brené Brown, “We cannot selectively numb.” When we harden our hearts to others, we end up with, well, hardened hearts. We won’t give others a break, and we can’t give ourselves a break either. We’re hard on ourselves, so then we’re hard on others. It’s an endless, self-reinforcing cycle.
“OK,” you may say, “but, what about the recent uptick in hate crimes? What about the truly violent stuff we’re watching go down?” To that, I say justice must be served. But, let’s take a step back and distinguish between crimes requiring justice and people who do things we disagree with. We’ve started to conflate them with our hardened hearts, but one is not like the other. People who live differently than we do, who are different than we are — they have feelings. They are dealing with the pain of their life like we’re dealing with the pain of ours. All of us have pain that, if left unattended, can turn into hate or worse.
“Wait!” you say, “I’m not hateful!” As human beings with human egos, let’s not kid ourselves. We all throw some shade from time to time. Sure, sometimes we need to throw shade. Shade thrown with the intention of loving kindness is a healthy boundary. Shade thrown in ego, righteousness, or hate can be disguised as boundaries, but is actually just plain old hate.
So, what? Who cares if sometimes we mix up why we’re throwing shade? What’s the big deal? For that, I turn to Ghostbusters II (1986). If you’re not familiar with this iconic movie, here’s the quick version: The Ghostbusters find a massive river of slime below New York City, and it is discovered that an evil 16th century tyrant is using the slime to gain power, which expands as New Yorkers become more nasty to each other. He plans to use this energy to possess a baby, regain life, and rule the world.
Do I believe a 16th century tyrant will come back to life? No. But I do believe that there is a collective energy that builds. How we treat each other builds in the air, in a way we can feel and affects our behavior. Think about the fear we could feel in the air when COVID hit a year ago.
My running theory is, if each of us take care to tone down our nastiness and be a bit kinder to each other, we can begin to heal the world’s problems from the bottom up with the collective power of individuals. Just like at the end of Ghostbusters II (spoiler alert), it was the New Yorkers united, singing loudly in joy that weakened the tyrant’s evil powers.
What’s the ROI on stopping the river of slime? Who knows. But, we do know where we’re headed if we insist on never giving anyone — including ourselves — a break. I’d rather take my chances on kindness. Besides, would a flash mob musical to fight slime really be all that strange at this point?
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Rev. Bonnie Ho is a spiritual counselor, energy reader, and author of the Living in the Third Eye column for Jumble & Flow. After spending most of her adult life trying to prove her own worth through an analytical career, Bonnie found a spiritual path that led her back to herself and her own heart. Now, Bonnie aims to help others heal their wounds, find their joy, and embrace their intuition and true desires, in a grounded, balanced way.
Bonnie is available for spiritual guidance and energy readings. Visit bonniehoinsights.com to learn more.
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