A while back, on news coverage of the protests, I saw a young girl holding a sign. It simply said, “Be kind.” Simple. Basic. Yet so important. Kindness and gentleness seem to be at a shortage in our culture these days. And, although we might think that we all should have learned how to do it in kindergarten, perhaps a refresher, updated for our current culture and context, might be helpful. I’d like to come up with a clever “Top Ten” list in true David Letterman fashion. But, our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. So, I think I can boil it down to three….
- Wear a mask. I recognize that there may be people who, because of a medical or mental health condition, find this difficult. And, I think we need to show some compassion when this is truly the case. But don’t just shed the mask because you don’t like it, it messes up your makeup, or – worst of all – you think it’s a political statement. It’s not. It’s more of a “golden rule statement.” In our gospels, Jesus continually calls his followers to love others, even to the point of laying down our lives as he did. The science doesn’t lie. Masks help prevent spread of infection. When I consider needing to sacrifice my life for someone else’s well-being (the true gospel call), something as basic as wearing a mask feels like I am actually getting off pretty easy.
- Don’t ask people how they are unless you mean it. A lot of people right now are feeling frightened, anxious, overwhelmed, confused, and frustrated. They need someone to talk to. The only thing worse than no one to talk to is someone who pretends to care and doesn’t. When you ask how someone is, really listen to their reply. If you sense the emotions I’ve listed above, invite them to talk more about their feelings. Listen with the ear of your heart, as St Benedict would say. Listening is the ultimate expression of hospitality and welcome. And, if what you hear worries you, offer to help them find a qualified professional to talk with.
- Show respect and open up dialogue with people who are nothing like you. Our nation has become so divided and so many of us have locked ourselves up in our own echo chambers. That perpetuates the cycle of misunderstanding, mistrust, and – ultimately – violence. Invite others to share their stories, their experiences with you and – for the love of God (literally!) – don’t critique or diminish their experience. Even if you vehemently disagree, don’t use their openness as a doorway to disagreement. If you disagree, perhaps say something like, “It’s hard for me to understand that perspective, but I appreciate you sharing it with me.” And, don’t offer your own perspective, unless they ask for it. The goal of listening is understanding and empathy. Listening isn’t a tool to get our own rhetorical foot in the door.
And the world will be a much better place for all of us.