Here’s my hope for the next four years – one of my hopes, anyway.
That we take the proverbial pendulum – the one that swings this way or that way every time there’s a major upset in Washington, D.C. – and we push it toward kindness.
That we actively look around for kindness, and when we don’t see enough of it, we get resourceful and create more.
That we find ourselves in situations (at Thanksgiving dinner, on a city sidewalk, at the keyboard) where we think about what the world needs right now – hostility or hope – and we recognize that the latter is the one in short supply.
And that we generate some.
I see signs of this happening all around me. A reader named Dace Kezbers emailed me a photo last week of a sign posted in the art department at her grandchildren’s school.
“Dear undocumented students,” it begins. “In this classroom, there are no walls. You belong here. You are loved.
“Dear black students,” it continues. “In this classroom, YOUR life matters. You are loved.
“Dear Muslim students and students of Middle Eastern descent,” it reads. “We know you are not terrorists. You are loved.”
On Facebook – land of the free-floating anger, home of the brave souls standing up to that one friend from high school – a group of people has dedicated itself to committing 60 million acts of kindness.
It’s a public group, started shortly after the presidential election, to share ideas and examples for helping others. The 60 million is a reference to the number of votes Hillary Clinton received, but the page is largely apolitical.
From Melissa Atkins Wardy: “My family is traveling to Disney World on Thanksgiving day so today my kids are making little paper leaves that say ‘Thank you for working hard on this holiday. Happy Thanksgiving to you!'’ to give to the gas station attendants, hotel workers and restaurant servers we encounter on the drive there.”
From Lorraine Pastore: “Today I gave my $10 supermarket coupon to the young mother ahead of me and wished her a happy Thanksgiving. It felt great.”
From Karen Gilmore Gilgert: “My daughter practiced her holiday music at the local assisted living residence instead of at home so others could enjoy it.”
From Guillermo Valverde: “I have driven an hour in traffic and back to help a friend. I forgave someone who hurt me and called her to say hello. I wrote a letter commending an employee at Target. I bought the lady behind me coffee. I wrote a handwritten note to my coffee girl at Starbucks. I promoted a trainer on FB and invited 50 people to like his class. And for the past two days, I’ve been doing hard labor at my sister’s front yard replanting trees and flowers so that when she gets home from her trip tomorrow it’s all done!”
Dear undocumented students,” it begins. “In this classroom, there are no walls. You belong here. You are loved.”
Sign in the art department at the school of Dace Kezbers’ grandchildren.
Camden Lilley-Hall posted a photo of a purse with the following caption: “Have a spare bag at home you don’t want? Fill it with snacks, sanitary and hygiene products. Next time you see a homeless woman, give it to her.”
The posts are tiny steps. They don’t get the attention of legislators. They don’t agitate for specific presidential appointments, or against them. They’re quiet.
But that doesn’t mean they’re powerless.
In August, I wrote about Kristina Lancaster’s campaign to spread random acts of kindness around her Fox Lake, Ill., community in honor of her son Alex, who died when he was 12.
On what should have been Alex’s 16th birthday, the Lancasters and their friends went around buying doughnuts for firefighters, haircuts for strangers, coffee for mail carriers.
“Every time someone spread kindness in Alex’s memory, someone said his name and someone thought of him with a smile,” Lancaster told me at the time. “For me, as a grieving parent, that is one of the things I pray for most – that my boy is remembered because his presence mattered.”
Is kindness going to run a country? No. Will it create jobs? Not directly, no. Will it protect our natural resources? It won’t.
But does it make a difference? It absolutely does.
Ask the Lancasters.
Heidi Stevens is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Readers may email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.