On this week of Thanksgiving, I wonder what has happened to kindness.
I’m not going to be a Pollyanna here. I’ve lived enough to know horrible behaviors bubble up in this messy business of being human. I’ve encountered the best and worst in people, from the inspiring teachers I’ve had to the muggers who ruined my first semester in college.
I’ve experienced blatant sexism. Notable example: Decades ago a construction industry journal reduced my first name to an initial in a byline, but published the complete first names of all male writers. The men were Tom, Dick and Harry. I was “D.”
Yet, despite way bigger struggles in my own life, I’m wide-eyed enough to know I have not suffered like many others.
As a mother, I’ve spent two decades teaching my children the golden rule. Love thy neighbor as thyself.
I’m not perfect, but I’ve tried to be kind to all. And thanks to a billion blessings, my sons have become fine young men. I’m proud of them. Not just because they’re smart and hard-working and quick to smile. Not just because they’re funny, curious about the world, or that they never give up. It’s because they’re kind.
Over the years, teachers would remark often about my kids’ innate compassionate ways. Quick anecdotes: In early grade school, one son was singled out to buddy up with a nervous new classmate. Our boy still had his baby teeth, but the teacher recognized his little heart was really big. In middle school, an instructor pointed out how our other son instinctively took furious notes for a struggling student who was momentarily called out of class. He later gently passed her the information so she wouldn’t fall behind. Small gestures, but for a mom, more memorable than GPA numbers.
As my sons’ voices deepened and they moved on to high school and college, I was happy to see how inclusive they were —and still are —with their choices of friends and associates. And I got to thinking, if I were to create a Venn diagram of any group of humans that have been recently marginalized, there would be some serious overlap in their friend groups. We’d have almost perfect circles.
So now, especially now, I worry about other parents who have children with still-squeaky, angelic voices. I imagine it’s an uphill battle to remind them about kindness and respectfulness. Who are their role models?
Bullying has become normalized in politics and pop culture. The internet is obviously a major culprit, but even “family time” Disney-ish TV factors in. I remember the early “American Idol” shows, a “reality” template, which I personally banned almost immediately. It has become a sport to judge, criticize and laugh at people plucked from obscurity, folks who are trying but don’t quite fit a certain mold. Also on TV, I was especially flummoxed to see the networks promote primary and presidential debates very much like Vegas boxing matches.
My hope is that we will halt the simmering cruelty as it infiltrates our daily lives. What we don’t allow at our own tables should also not be allowed as we step beyond our front doors. Imagine attending a Thanksgiving dinner peppered with the tones of this political year:
“These yams didn’t turn out as they should have. You’re incompetent, Aunt Myrna. Fail!”
“I am going to bring up that thing you did 15 years ago, Harold, because I’m confident you have not evolved or ever will. Here’s some gravy.”
“Doris, stand way in the back for the family portrait. You’re not attractive.”
“Hey Sketchy Sandra, why don’t you pass the potatoes?”
During this week we count our blessings, would we behave like this in our own homes? Yet our country is our bigger home. I hope we listen more. Really listen. I hope we act when we witness any injustice.
The powerful sentiments etched within the base of our Statue of Liberty, words by poet “E.” (wink) Lazarus, should be more than words. Here’s to lifting our lamps and treating all others with kindness and respect.
Reach Denise Snodell at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @DeniseSnodell