There’s a sign in someone’s yard on the route my wife and I regularly walk. It’s painted blue and red and proclaims in bold white letters: JUST BE KIND.
I like that sign.
And even though I don’t know the people who live in that house and made that sign, I like them too.
Because anyone who goes through the trouble of making and posting a sign that says JUST BE KIND is probably the kind of people I want to be around.
Kindness is contagious, after all. When we experience kindness or see kindness demonstrated, we’re more likely to go and do likewise.
Kindness makes the world a better place. And hopefully, we’d all agree the world could always be a little bit better.
* * * *
Maybe it’s just me but there seems there’s a dearth of kindness in our culture today. And I think that’s why the sign in the yard is so poignant.
We could blame the Internet and its propensity for depersonalized interactions with others in which people often rage in ways they would likely not do in person-to-person, face-to-face conversation.
We could blame the media.
We could blame “fake news” — whether real or imagined fake news.
We could blame our partisan politics and inflamed rhetoric.
We could blame Trump and conservatives if we’re more liberal.
Or we could blame Pelosi and Democrats if we’re more conservative.
We could blame all kinds of things for lack of kindness.
After all, the Internet, the media, politics, and everything else that we’re saturated with as persons living in the 21st Century form and shape us in profound ways.
They inform our worldview and, depending on our proclivities and convictions, tell us who and what’s acceptable and what’s not. And all this shapes how we interact with one another, how we listen (or don’t) to one another, and how we talk (or don’t) to one another.
Here’s what troubles me most.
Somehow we’ve gotten to the place where disagreement has led to demonization.
If we’re more conservative, then the liberal is an idiot, a moron, a hypocrite, a snowflake, a Socialist, or worse.
If we’re more liberal, the conservative is stupid, backward, a bigot, a racist, a nationalist, or worse.
At root here is not merely a lack of kindness. It’s deeper than that. This is a problem of dehumanization. It’s a failure to see the other as a human being made in God’s image and, as such, that has intrinsic worth and value.
If we don’t see the other — whoever the other is for us — as a fellow human being with all the beauty and messiness that entails, then we won’t be kind.
And I’ll go ahead and lay my cards on the table. I think it’s demonstrably true that this dehumanization and lack of kindness was exacerbated dramatically during the Trump era.
Trump disregarded all the norms of decorum and public and political discourse which characterize our democracy. His followers and fans loved it and cited his authenticity and tell-like-it-is attitude as one of his best attributes. They praised his brashness as strength. They liked his belittling and name-calling of everyone who challenged or disagreed with him because somehow it gave them permission to do the same. And they bought hook, line, and sinker the various conspiracy theories he peddled and blatant lies he told.
The progressives and liberals played this game too. Who can ever forget Hillary’s “deplorables” comment? Or Van Jones’s “White-lash” comment? Violent, destructive riots and angry “F**** the police!” chants are not likely to help the much-needed cause of social justice and racial reckoning our country needs.
Meanwhile, the cavernous divisions grow and we are all worse off for it.
* * * *
So I’ve been thinking about kindness a lot. Webster’s online defines kindness as “the quality or state of being kind; treating people with kindness and respect.”
Some synonyms for kindness include benevolence, favor, grace, and mercy.
It strikes me that these words are not merely descriptive of virtues or character traits, but also distinctly theological terms.
Benevolence, for example, is traditionally a key attribute of God. As in omnibenevolent — meaning the quality of being completely good.
Grace and mercy are particularly important theological terms, describing God’s redeeming and reconciliation of us through the person and work of Christ.
It’s by God’s grace that we’ve been saved, the Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians. God was merciful to us, Paul says in Romans, not treating us as our sins deserved.
All of which leads to favor — as in unmerited favor — a description of God’s undeserved kindness, grace, and mercy towards us in bringing about our salvation.
It turns out maybe that kindness is a theological virtue, like faith, hope, and love.
And it also turns out that just as God chose to demonstrate grace and mercy towards us, that being kind, merciful, and gracious (or not) is a choice we make.
“Be merciful,” Jesus says, “just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). And just before that, Jesus reminds us that God is even kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. The implication is that we should be too.
JUST BE KIND, the sign says.
And maybe it’s as simple as that. But also, let’s be honest, really hard sometimes too. Because, you know, life.
I want to choose kindness.
I want to be a person whose conversations and interactions with others are permeated with mercy and grace and kindness.
Sometimes I fail spectacularly at this.
But I think the more I keep intentionally choosing kindness — the more we all keep intentionally choosing kindness — the more it will seep its way into our souls and it will increasingly become our default posture towards others.
And that just might make the world a little bit better.