Enacting Small Kindnesses

It’s a weird time to be Jewish and to celebrate Hanukkah, which commemorates a military victory. I’m still lighting the candles with my friends and family but the whole thing has me contemplating many things: how to be in the world, what I think, why it matters, and who is listening.

If I listen to people in the digital world, everything seems terrible. I don’t only mean the active wars. People are saying spiteful things during presidential debates. They’re presenting polarizing views and shooting for the lowest common denominator rather than higher ideals. If I only focus on the digital world, I get depressed. But in the physical world, things aren’t so bad depending on where you live.

be kind sign

The sign says it all. Photo by Adam Nemeroff on Unsplash

In the physical world, people say, “Hey, is that your umbrella?” when they notice one left behind on a train seat. In the physical world, strangers smile at each other. In the physical world, good Samaritans help elderly ladies carry their walkers up bus steps. It reminds me of a poem by Danusha Laméris called “Small Kindnesses” that I’m quoting a portion of:

I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.

That’s my experience of the physical world. That mostly we don’t want to harm each other. That usually we see one another as human beings and say, “Here, let me make things a little easier for you.” It’s that genuine care and love for humanity that solves problems great and small, according to my spiritual teacher.

“This love will give people guidance; it will show them what to do and what not to do,” he said. “It is not necessary to study great numbers of books or to rely upon those who speculate with the future of the silent masses. The only essential requirement is to look upon humanity with genuine sympathy.”

That’s what I’m doing. Day by day, week after week, month after month, year after year, I’m looking upon humanity with genuine sympathy and love hoping that one day, it will all add up. That my small actions and someone else’s small actions will turn into something bigger and greater so that when people are out in the world, they’ll say to themselves, “Things aren’t so bad.”

I dream of a world where we recognize there can be a difference between what people say and how they treat each other. A world where we remember that people may be mean and spiteful on the internet, but in the physical world, they hold open doors for one another and say “bless you,” when someone sneezes. A world where we understand the only way to solve our problems great and small is by starting from a place of love and kindness.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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