Love in a Time of Cynicism
Bringing compassion and kindness into our everyday
Love each other like Pete loves Anchovy
I have a challenge for all of you this week: Commit acts of kindness.
Something I’ve been working on in my personal and professional life — and something I’ve been struggling with — is demonstrating kindness and compassion even in moments of stress, legitimate anger, and conflict. I write about politics; that is not exactly a job that encourages generosity towards others or that works the muscle of presuming good intentions. Even those of us whose work is grounded in social justice and feminism (perhaps especially those of us) can get so caught up in our reactions to others that we forget to focus on systems of oppression rather than individual people who piss us off, let alone model the kind of world we’re fighting for. Social media makes this so much worse: When you feel like you’re getting yelled at and bombarded by hatred all day long, it’s awfully hard to take a breath (or a break) and respond with the kind of tone, tenor and content that reflects the person you believe yourself to be.
All of this feels magnified by the particular universe I operate in, in which a contentious Democratic primary is in full swing.
Now this is where I go woo-woo yoga teacher on you: I also believe the universe will present you with what you need to hear, if you let it.
Or, put another way: I believe that our subconsciouses draw us toward the productive concepts and messages we need to internalize, and it’s important to pay attention. If you notice that you’re hearing and seeing the same idea over and over — maybe it’s a message about working hard, or re-assessing your friendships, or making time for romantic love, or being satisfied professionally — it might be that your brain is telling you something. Listen to it.
That message, for me, has been kindness. It just keeps popping up. And, frankly, it’s popping up at a time when, if I’m honest, I’ve been acting like kind of a jerk. I’m writing a book in a very short period of time, and I’m stressed and overwhelmed and 100% in my own head. I am not giving the kind of attention I want to give to the people I care about. I am only halfway present in important conversations. I am short and snappy with people, especially online. I presume bad faith too much of the time. When I feel tired and sad and frustrated, and when I’m expending so much energy just getting through my work, I struggle to be kind, compassionate, and loving.
And right now, when I’m feeling stretched to my capacity, messages about kindness are flooding into my world. I’m trying to listen.
The one I want to highlight and share with you comes from my dear friend Kaylie. In honor of her late husband Jeff — who I never had the pleasure of meeting, but who sounds like he was an absolute A+ human who the whole world is poorer without — Kaylie is asking everyone to carry out random acts of kindness this week, and especially tomorrow (February 25th), which is Jeff’s birthday. He would have been turning 38. You can read more about Jeff and Kaylie’s request for acts of kindness here. One of the first things I remember Kaylie telling me about Jeff was how fundamentally kind he was, how much light he brought into both of their lives, and how much his kindness animated their love. Jeff, she said, made it cool to be nice.
Part of Kaylie’s ask if that we also talk about kindness, and all the small things we can do to make life better for someone else. So feel free to share both this ask and your acts of kindness on social media, using #ItsCoolToBeNice.
A few days after I got Kaylie’s email requesting acts of kindness in Jeff’s honor, this post from everyone’s favorite astrologer Chani Nicholas appeared on my Instagram feed:
Sunday’s New Moon in Pisces reminds us of the power of the invisible. An act of kindness can change everything. Compassion is the super-glue of the soul. Care is our greatest currency. The web of connection that we build between us becomes the safety net that the societal structures we live within, lack. It is our greatest protector. From it stems all good choices. From it comes our power. From it comes our purpose. Caring about others protects us and much as it protects them. The simplest New Moon ritual you could do is to make acts of care central to your relationship with yourself and everyone else. Pisces knows the power of being gentle, present, and unconvinced that there is any separation between us.
And then, on the flight to Costa Rica (where I’m co-teaching a yoga and writing retreat), I finally listened to Brene Brown on Krista Tippet’s On Being (which has been on my phone for almost two years), where Brown talks about the relationship between courage and vulnerability, and emphasizes the need for “strong backs, soft fronts, and wild hearts.” If you haven’t listened to the episode, download it. One thing Brown says is that in all of her research and public speaking and private conversations, she has never met a single person who acted courageously without feeling profoundly vulnerable — without choosing to put themselves in a position of vulnerability. She uses the example of talking to Navy SEALS, and asking them about how they feel going out on missions that require the courage to risk your own life. Of course that courage is preceded by vulnerability. Of course that vulnerability doesn’t disappear as courage rises. The two live alongside each other. They are inextricable partners.
Here’s something I observe: I feel self-conscious talking and writing about choosing kindness, and especially writing about about choosing to do good acts. It feels… cheesy. Soft. Weak. Vaguely embarrassing. Vulnerable for sure.
How sad, that cynicism and hardness — which is so easy — has a cool factor that kindness doesn’t.
Cruelty is not hard. Turning perceived opponents into caricatures is so much more efficient than doing the work to see them as human beings as complex and damaged as you are. Reacting is a lot easier, and a lot less complicated, than listening, receiving, processing, and responding with care and mutuality.
Having the strength and the courage to show your soft belly, to know that whatever happens as a result you’ll be fine — that is hard.
So if it resonates, accept Kaylie’s encouragement to do something kind today, tomorrow, and every day this week. And maybe take it a little further: Can you commit an act of kindness, and then can you demonstrate kindness and compassion in your actions, reactions, and interactions with others? Can you be as kind and gentle with yourself, inside your own head, as you would be with a person you love?
Can you find the courage to get a little soft?