It’s been a hard few days. It doesn’t promise to get easier any time soon.
The nation has mourned at our sides, and that is appreciated more than you can know. Each phone call and email, each DM and Facebook message means the world.
And yet each of us mourns alone. The pain is overwhelming. Barely an hour passes without my eyes brimming over.
The post immediately preceding this one – my New Years post – notes that the overwhelming majority of each of our days is filled with kindness. Even in the horror of this weekend’s shootings, that still remains the case.
It is that kindness that has made the past few days bearable. As everyone I encounter falls somewhere between numb and grieving, there is a sense of solemnity, of gentleness – and yes, of kindness.
Shock-spawned words of anger and blame have quickly become words of reflection, of caution. And in all that, I realize that I have quietly and almost entirely unbeknownst to my very self, taken a vow of kindness.
What started as my immediate response to the news has grown quickly into a commitment, as I find I have vowed to ask, “What is kindness?” in every situation I encounter.
I have vowed to sit in practice with that question as if I were an 8 year old practicing her multiplication tables. The easy part is being kind to those who are also being kind. The real practice, though, is learning to be kind to those who make us feel boldly justified in being UNkind – the people we all encounter throughout each of our days, who we feel deserve blame, justice, retribution.
When it comes to those with whom I disagree, what is kindness?
When it comes to someone who may be treating me horribly, abusing me, treating me angrily – what is kindness?
When it comes to the pain felt by the young man who, clearly in more pain than I can imagine, perpetrated Saturday’s horrific act of violence – what is kindness?
In such situations, I have no idea what the answers will be. Sometimes kindness means being stern, walking the tough line of discipline. Sometimes it means separating ourselves from a situation. Sometimes it means finding alternatives to rebelling from the place of our own anger and pain.
Will I know the path of kindness when that path feels like a stretch? Will I take that path, or will I succumb to the only-humanness each of us feels, as we protect ourselves from the things that cause us fear?
There is one thing I do know for certain. And that is that the first steps towards building a world where kindness is our reflex will begin with each of us. In The Pollyanna Principles, I wrote, “Being the change we want to see means walking the talk of our values.” As happens so often, “walking the talk” means taking actual steps.
Which is what each of us can do, right now. We can each vow, right now, to explore, to practice, to learn what it would take to ask that single question, as many times as we can throughout the day – and to find our way to the answer.
In this moment, and in the next and the one after – with everyone I encounter, and everyone whose image passes through my mind – what is kindness?
With love and sadness to all who are mourning, not just here in Tucson, but everywhere…