Skip to main content

A Public Kindness

I was inspired lately by this poem, titled "Kindness" by Stephen Dunn. An excerpt:

In Manhattan, I learned a public kindness/ was a triumph/ over the push of money, the constrictions of fear. If it occurred it came/ from some deep primal memory, almost entirely lost - 
Here, let me help you, then you me, otherwise we'll die.

Arguably, public kindness is a highly visible type of altruism. Which yields for us a fascinating question: is kindness synonymous with altruism? And did altruism arise solely to preserve life?

I would contend that kindness and altruism are not the same thing. Because kindness may not come solely in acts. It also may come in the simple orientation we have towards each other, to share our joy and our mutually positive energy. Or to not say a cruel word.

I do love that image from the poem, of triumphing over the constrictions of money and of fear. I'll be taking that with me, and looking for more opportunities for public - and private - kindnesses.





Comments

Popular posts from this blog

All I want for my birthday is...

Have you ever had a bad day turn around because of incredibly small, yet memorable, act of kindness? Maybe a stranger smiled at you in the grocery line, or opened a door for you, or let you go first after a stop sign. Or perhaps you heard from an old friend, calling you just because. A hug, a genuine question about your day, or simply the gift of listening -- all of these acts have power.

Rabbi Hillel* famously said,
"If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?" There's so much that can be read into a quote like that, but let me offer this interpretation through the lens of kindness. Performing kindness (e.g. self-care) for yourself is a genuine form of kindness for the world. And likewise, acting in kindness for others is also a boon to one's own soul.

In that spirit, I offer this request. All I want for my birthday (Oct 23) this year is to put a dose of kindness into the world. And I need your help. If we ea…

The 95% Rule

Yesterday morning, I was walking back to the house from the gym - my usual route, across Canal Street. Per usual at 7.45am, the road was filled with rushing cars, commuting to points downtown. Per usual, I entered the crosswalk. And for nearly the hundredth time, I almost got sideswiped by a car that was legally mandated to stop for pedestrians.

All of that was, sadly, well within the norm of my experience. But what pushed me over the edge was the fact that the car that nearly killed me took the time to roll down his window and scream obscenities at me. The car was a Lexus, driven by a man in his 50s or 60s.

If only he had paused before the crosswalk,  rather than after. Evidently he had the time to do one but not the other?

What's a compassionate human being to do?

Pause. Breathe. Forget about it. Send a dose of kindness his way, enough to disinfect him from whatever scum was infiltrating his mind.

Did I do that? Of course not at the time. But later - maybe.

When's the last …

Do you have the resources to perform acts of kindness?

Last week, I found myself sitting in a fancy boardroom in midtown Manhattan. A group of about twenty well-dressed white men and two women were meeting with me to discuss matters of corporate strategy, for the nonprofit healthcare system I am consulting with.

As we talked through anticipated state budget cuts to Medicaid and the difficulty of serving that program, I gazed out the window from time to time. Thirty-five stories below us, we could find the people who would be impacted by these decisions. Sure, this was only one nonprofit healthcare system among many. But collectively, we represented the decision makers, and others had to live by our decisions. There was no Medicaid recipient who would speak up for the program; there was no elderly person living in one of the organization's nursing homes would lend their perspective; there was no person from a homeless shelter who could say what they needed, what would help their situation most.

It was seven o'clock in the evening,…