Sometimes its hard to tell apart the mature grown ups from the immature toddlers, in the current climate of divisiveness and division America lives within.
So last week an "adult" named Leslie Gibson, a Republican candidate for a seat in the Maine State House, publicly mocked and disparaged two "kids", Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg, survivors of the massacre at the high school in Parkland, Florida. Hogg and Gonzalez' very public activism in the days since the shootings--advocating for gun control, demanding that politicians make schools safe for children and youth--this was apparently too much for Gibson. And so he took to Twitter and called Gonzalez a "skinhead lesbian" and Hogg a "moron" and a "baldfaced liar".
To their credit neither of the young people shot back with a Twitter tirade of their own, a tit for tat unkind tweet. Hogg did respond, in part, in an interview: "We need good people in office--people who are actually human and have an ounce of empathy." And I might add, we also need people in public office who are, simply, kind.
Kindness: the human virtue whereby we actually treat each other with decency. Agree to disagree yet always see the "other" as a fellow human being, a fellow citizen, a fellow child of God, worthy as much as ourselves of dignity, respect and care. In faith traditions we look to the Golden Rule for guidance on how to be kind: do unto others as we would ask that others would do unto us.
We all know such human kindness when we experience it. When as a stranger we are welcomed in. When as a stumbler or mistake maker we are helped back up and gracefully forgiven. When as a vulnerable person--poor or sick or young or powerless--someone watches out for us. When kindness happens, it is such a gift, so beautiful.
We also know human cruelty when we experience it. When those with much give little or nothing to those with little. When lawmaker adults just cannot seem to understand the frightened and angry cries of children and youth they are called to protect. When to win at all costs--an election, a debate--trumps doing the right thing, the just thing, the honorable thing. When cruelty happens, it is such a tragedy, so ugly.
Ugly enough to want to publicly shame two teenagers, I suppose, two young adults who witnessed the murder of their friends and thus just want to change things for the better. And this is why Gibson was so nasty, so unkind?
Maybe I am naive or softhearted but I just don't get such hardness of heart, such bare knuckled mean-spiritedness. And I'm also unsure of why our common civic life is so sharp and savage these days. Politicians furiously fulminating in daily tweet storms that eviscerate and insult anyone whom they perceive as a threat to their power. Media filled with people who spend most of the time yelling at each other. Social media, with anonymity and speed, empowering us to be cruel in a split second, as thousands of folks join in with glee.
It doesn't have to be so. The great thing about kindness is that to make it happen, to see its amazing, miraculous effect upon relationships, communities, a nation--all we have to do is....be kind. That's it.
Offer kindness both to the folks we see eye to eye with and to the ones we disagree with too. If we are to ever find common ground for the common good we must begin with respect for our opponent. Follow the teaching of our parents, our elders: if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything. More often than not it is wiser to just keep our mouths shut. To not send a text in anger. Not re-tweet an awful story or share a terrible news item on Facebook. Instead use technology to spread love, to lift up others, to share good news about people and the world we live in. If Gibson had followed this advice he'd still be running for office. Or be kind where you are right now: in your family, at your workplace, in your faith community, in your town or city, in your neighborhood. We may not be able to stem the tide of unkindness in politics and popular culture but we can sow seeds of love on the ground, where we live. Kindness always begins with you, with me, with one person deciding to just be kind.
So be a rebel. Buck the trends. Push back against the temptation to join in our culture wide scrum and instead make this one choice today.