By Neal Lemery
“A tree is known by its fruits; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.” – St. Basil (329-379 AD)
As the old calendar comes off the wall and the fresh, unmarked calendar of 2021 takes its place, I marvel at all the events written on the old calendar. Most of them are crossed off. This year was the year of the Great Postponement, the year of cancellations and re-dos, of reforming events and projects, to fit the times of contagion, “personal distancing” and self care. And, for most of us, a time of “society care”.
2020 was the year we didn’t plan and we didn’t want. The comfortable, predicable and expected simply didn’t happen, and we had to adjust. The old and familiar changed, and we have had to change with the times, whether we wanted to or not. The inner child, the inner toddler in me wasn’t a happy camper, and my tantrums often played out where others could see what a naughty kid I could be. I’m not alone in all that acting out.
Like most of us, I’ve discovered the satisfaction of having the time to focus inward, to take on and complete home projects, to savor experiences with myself and the people I live with, and to reshape our experiences in the greater community. I’ve grown in many ways, and learned to appreciate the simple pleasures of a safe meeting with friends, a collective effort made possible by technology, and some peace and quiet in nature.
While there have always been angry, selfish outbursts of social rage that are often based upon fear, ignorance, and anxiety, this year that ugliness has been fueled by a collective access to social media, and the often unpenalized human trait to act out and rage in public. This year agitators have thrown the proverbial gasoline on the coals of unrest, frustration and the impotence of not being in charge of our lives. Society is changing, and the change is being forced upon us by the pandemic and the resulting economic and social events. We’ve been asked to adapt and to be tolerant, but that doesn’t mean we like it, or can adapt willingly or with the best interests of the community in our heart.
In all this, there is a renaissance in personal and community kindnesses. Cordiality, compassion and community caretaking have taken on a new importance. Now, I cherish the chat with the barista as I drive through for a cuppa, or have a properly distanced lunch with a friend. Zoom meetings have become a staple of community gatherings. I’ve acquired new skills and have been able to be part of rich conversations from people from around the country. In many ways, we’ve been able to accomplish a lot in virtual gatherings. We are more efficient and more organized, while protecting our health and coping with the absence of “presence” and side conversations.
We are more gentle in our conversations, more apt to express our appreciation, and extend courtesies and patience. Sending thoughtful messages and showing respect for others have enjoyed a new vibrancy. Meeting for coffee seems like a spiritual celebration.
Personal encounters have become special, deserving of my full attention and a mutual exchange of good wishes and small acts of courtesy. Life has slowed down, and I no longer feel compelled to rush through the day’s errands and transactions. I have found that I have time to be kind.
Despite the nastiness of political rhetoric, headlines and the seemingly unending social media posts, we have become kinder. We have realized that kindness matters. The pandemic and the “Great Pause” have given us some mental space to appreciate and celebrate the small things that make life sweeter.
Often, practicing kindness doesn’t get our attention, but it is the undercurrent, the “fuel” of our society. We are all hurting, we are all adjusting, and we all cherish those small, sweet moments where one person does nice things for someone else. This isn’t glamorous, nor does it gather much attention. But, it is the fresh spring breeze that comes at the end of a cold winter, and we are all part of it, the “Great Kindness”. A simple act, kindness, yet so powerful it changes the world.
“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” — Jane Goodall
Here’s a helpful checklist from our Great Kindness Challenge: