The Limits of Kindness

A list is circulating social media, offering ways of tipping the balance toward the good in fraught times. Such as opening doors for people, offering a smile, letting other vehicles in a long line of traffic.

I have often written of small acts and their power. I believe that these kind of kindnesses are true and useful and so so needed, and I believe that every small act has resonance beyond its immediate impact. I am a fervent believer in the power of kindness.

And I see the limits of kindness. There is also a need for intervention. Making room for others in our heart is a great thing—and may it nudge us to stand for justice.

“The heart and the fist,” is how activist/visionary Valarie Kaur puts it. Rage, she says, at least maternal rage, is a “biological force that protects that which is loved.”

Photo by Eliza, via flickr.com Creative Commons

What this looks like in practice, I’m still figuring out, but one thing’s for certain: The coming years will not relieve the need for the heart and the fist. I want to be part of the movement toward a better future, where all are valued, respected, and safe, and no one is targeted for being Black or brown or immigrant or trans or female or poor or any other scapegoat status.

In thinking about the violence at the Capitol, it helps me to anchor into the big-big picture. First remembering that this small human body is truly, ultimately safe, always one-with-Source—realizing energy cannot be destroyed, only transformed. Then seeking to understand:

Are we seeing the last gasp of the dinosaurs, as Octavia Raheem’s beautiful post suggests? Is this the patriarchy making a final last stand? Brene Brown has said of this ugly era: “Last stands are violent and desperate and scary, and know no boundaries and no rules, and do not follow any protocols.”

Kaur uses a birthing metaphor, saying we are in a stage called transition: “It feels like dying, but it is the stage that precedes the birth of new life.”

I’m struck by what these stories have in common—their implied faith that something better is on the horizon. I am a proponent of hopeful narratives, and yet I know that nothing is assured. That is why Kaur says transition is a dangerous time, and calls us to labor. To embody what she calls Revolutionary Love.

She advocates a fierce brand of love that asks us to “see no stranger,” as she learned from her Sikh faith. (Note: Read her book by this title and you will never be the same.) To Kaur, everyone is a brother or sister, an uncle or auntie. Instead of “otherizing” those who think/live/look different from us, instead of dehumanizing any member of our human family, she takes the attitude: “You are a part of me I do not yet know.”

That is how she looks at everyone, even those who do egregious things. This isn’t about being a doormat, and she’s very clear that if you are the one who is under the knee of the oppressor, your job is not to attempt this transcendence. Your job is to survive, then tend to your own trauma.

This is where community comes in. Those of us not in immediate danger must step in and do this work. It’s hard. Empathy and kindness are not necessarily the starting point. Wonder can be enough to start, says Kaur. To wonder, for example: What are the life experiences that lead to violent white supremacist attacks?

To support this hard work, she has conceived of The People’s Inauguration as a way to recognize that we are the leaders and healers our country needs. Set for Jan. 21, the day after the inauguration, it is a pledge to help heal and rebuild America as an anti-racist, equitable, sustainable nation. For 10 days thereafter, supportive teachings will be offered online. I have signed up. Join me if it resonates.

Learn more through this Sounds True podcast.

4 thoughts on “The Limits of Kindness

  1. Thank you. Shawndra for supporting and encouraging Valarie’s work. I read her book last fall and it’s one that stays with me even on the dark days. So do your posts which I always look forward to. Alison

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.