The season of “Auld Lang Syne” is fast upon us. As we sing the strains inspired by the Scottish poet Robert Burns, we remember the past year. We also look ahead to the new.
Despite all of our earnest resolutions, none among us know what 2018 will bring. My resolution is to try to be kinder in the New Year. I say this with humility and the full knowledge that many listeners will consider this hopelessly naïve.
We live at a time marinated in the relentless drive for instant gratification. Our hyper-connected global village seems to demand fast results in every aspect of our lives. Mobile phone apps summon our rides, keep us up-to-the minute in headlines and even rule our dating options. Retailers compete for the quickest deliveries. Internet providers boast about their speed.
This is particularly the case for the young, who have been wired since the womb. But isn’t just millennials – frequent fliers pay extra for the right to bypass those snaking lines at airports. And the young have no monopoly on grousing when they are stuck in a line at the DMV or kept on telephone hold.
This instant world has created an impatience disease, a chronic malady that prods too many of us to anger when things don’t happen with the alacrity we’ve come to expect.
One cure for this, I hope, is for all of us to try to slow down and embrace the humanity inherent in treating our fellow humans with kindness. In the words of Mark Twain, “kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
Kindness is a universal theme that knows no boundaries of race, creed, gender or nationality. It is a trait that each of us can weave into our daily lives. It can be grand gesture, such as giving generously of your time and money to a worthy cause. Or it can be as small as a cheery greeting to someone in line at the coffee shop.
Whenever I think of a concrete act of kindness that is within reach of all of us, I’m reminded of a sermon I heard some years ago by Leslie Gutterman, the rabbi emeritus at Temple Beth-El in Providence. Gutterman recalled how as a young rabbi he was often flummoxed by a tragedy that had struck a member of his congregation.
Death, sickness, depression, abandonment, sadness – all of this is part of being alive in this broken world in which we live. What Rabbi Gutterman said he learned after many years as a pastor should resonate with us all.
Trying to fix life’s sad vicissitudes is futile. Yet, when a friend is grieving or faced with life’s steep challenges, Gutterman decided there was something we can all do. He calls it “just showing up.”
“I have learned that just coming to console is more important than the actual words of support, comfort or healing,” he said in his sermon. And: “Not showing up for tragic occasions can magnify a friend’s sense of isolation.”
You don’t have to be learned or wealthy to reach out to those in need. Kindness exalts our common humanity at a time of fractures in our society. Kindness defies stereotypes and, like the tides, washes over us all.
New Year’s resolutions are difficult to live up to. How many of us have resolved to lose weight, quit smoking or cut down on frivolous spending, only to see our vows evaporate by Valentine’s Day?
But being a better person, embracing the virtue of kindness and celebrating our humanity is within reach of every one among us. It won’t cost you anything. It will help to connect you with the better angels of our common existence.
In the coming year, let’s walk together in the knowledge that we aren’t alone. Decency, compassion and kindness are values to which we can all aspire.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all. Be safe and be kind. And show up.
Scott MacKay’s commentary can be heard at 6:45 and 8:45 every Monday on Morning Edition and at 5:44 on All Things Considered. You can also follow his political reporting and analysis at our ‘On Politics’ blog at RIPR.org