There has been an ongoing debate among our planet’s dwellers in regard to changing climates and the current and potential effects we experience. The arguments are heavily rooted in politics and science, which, as we've seen for quite some time, do not always align so smoothly. Though the prognosis of our planet is incredibly important, I write about a different change in climate - that of people and they way we perceive and interact with each other.
With the invention of 24 hour news, and more recently, social media, we are constantly inundated with acts of violence, public shame, and disregard for our fellow humans. From terrorist attacks in the Middle East to terrorist attacks in U.S. Schools to street violence, to cyber bullying, to racial tensions and aggressive protests, our culture of anger and hate seems to be growing. Is this disdain new? Has it grown in size and popularity? Are we, as people, really growing less tolerant of each other? Or, does the face of intolerance and aggression just look different?
The answers to the above questions may vary, depending on who is answering. Conclusions are neither consistent nor as concrete and easily defined as some may think. The United States has come a long way since owning, abusing, and trafficking humans, or have we? Sure, slavery has been long abolished. African Americas legally have rights equal to any other U. S. citizen, yet racism still exists. If we broaden the context from slavery to include human sex trafficking, one may have a more difficult time arguing that humans are no longer perceived as objects to be possessed, sold, and used as a vessel for the luxury and convenience of a select few. Case workers with Child Protective Services may also have a counter argument to everyone being treated equally and humanely.Unfortunately, some children continue to be abused, sexually assaulted, and repeatedly demeaned by caregivers ill equipped to ethically and healthfully nurture a young person. Women have risen to power in corporations, family systems, and politics, though some women continue to experience the limiting restraints of the familiar glass ceiling.
After reading the above paragraph, one may begin to feel like this is a narrative borrowed from Lemony Snicket's books; with each improvement comes another obstacle. Don't step off the ledge just yet. After all, improvement indicates gain and progress. The work of Civil Rights leaders, activists, and common people exhibiting kindness are not menial, but impactful. Without the constant invitation of kindness and civility, we as a people, may not understand the wrongs of society to be so wrong. Consider the popular opinion of women, children, minority races, and even animals as recent as 50 years ago, or even 20 years ago, for that matter.
Despite the acknowledgment of growth and compassion, some may still struggle to see how the world is any different in the wake of so much violence. More troops are being deployed to Afghanistan, white supremacy groups are gaining more media attention, and each day is met with more polarizing debates on our nation's politics and what defines "great." Right versus left, conservative versus liberal, Christian versus secular, protester versus anti-protester, radical religious groups versus the world - all have a message, all believe themselves to be "right."
I'm not sure how anyone has the true definitive answer to all of our problems, or even a clear explanation for what is happening to exacerbate the culture of hate. However, one thing appears certain, hate is conceived, nurtured, and reinforced by fear and ignorance. These attributes of hate are exactly why education and tolerance are so crucial to our survival and connection to others.
So, if education is all we need, why are we not doing a better job teaching loving kindness? Well, again, it's clearly not that easy. One can deliver a message repeatedly, but if that message is unwelcome, frightening, or vastly unfamiliar, it will unlikely be received, much less digested and nurtured. One place to start is to begin listening with intent to understand, rather than intent to defend. The former requires active listening and processing, allowing openness to new ideas and conversation. The latter is funneled and filtered to listen only for potential threats and validating points to support one's argument. Imagine if we all embrace the latter, the Earth would still be flat and the center of the universe, we wouldn't be flying or driving, and we certainly wouldn't be reading these words, or any others, on a screen.
People need new ideas. One important consideration is that we can receive and embrace new ideas without compromising our identities or culture. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (2017) suggests that we need to go back to identifying and welcoming our unique cultural attributes. He goes on to say that not knowing who we are leads us to a belief that we should all be the same, thereby fearing and fighting differences. Likewise, Time Wise (2011) states that being "colorblind" may be more hindering than helpful. Each race and ethnic group has a story that explains and honors its people. These stories are relevant. Some are to be passed on as anecdotes for religion, culture, food, etc. Some are to act as warnings, so treacherous mistakes are not repeated. These speakers referenced above are not suggesting that we further polarize, but on the contrary, take ownership of who we are, while simultaneously loving, respecting, and appreciating others for who they are.
So, what ingredients cultivate a culture of kindness? A dash of listening and thoughtful communication, a pinch of accountability, a shake of empathy. Mis with tolerance of discomfort and open mind. Cultivate for a lifetime, and let cool before reacting.
Perhaps, kindness and compassion are in a constant flux with hatred and fear. What if the citizens of Earth never truly go all the way to one side or another? If it's true that hatred and fear of differences will always exist, it is all the more important that we do our part to embody and exude kindness with every opportunity presented.
Wise, Tim (2011). 'Colorblind: The Rise of Post-Racial Politics and the Retreat from Racial Equity'.
Sacks, Lord J (2017). “How we can face the future without fear, together.” TED2017. Retrieved 2014-07-14