Day 2293 – Day 2308
I know you might disagree with me that gratitude and kindness are important for making the world a better place. I agree, we need justice for victims of violence against women, against racialized communities, against the oppression of dictatorships and for the uneven distribution of wealth in the world and the impacts of climate change. I’ve never been one to say these things are not crucially important and I’ve spent a considerable portion of my professional life working on policy to change these things. I also think that these softer but sublime practices can lead to better understanding and compassion, rather than violent self-interest.
Everywhere I look right now there seems to be positioning and aggressiveness. I had a call from a friend this week and even as I tried to say that people are no longer able to disagree without becoming entrenched in a position, the friend became intrenched in their position and gave examples of how others were wrong in what they were saying and doing. There was no pause to hear what I was saying before digging into the trench from which they would do battle. If I had thought of it, maybe forcing a pause might have slowed down the conversation so that we were actually listening to one another. Not feeling heard, I struggled to want to follow them where they wanted to take the conversation. Maybe if I had just hit pause on the conversation, I could have just taken that moment for a breath for myself, gotten present with my feelings and then, with presence, returned to the conversation, ready to follow where they needed to take the conversation and affirm what they needed to have heard. I wonder what would have happened if I had used phone technology as my ally. “Hold on. Just a minute. I need to feel this anger, this sorrow, this fear and let it pass. I can find my gratitude in this situation and return with kindness.”
I am grateful. I am grateful for the phone call that let me know that I am still a treasured friend, even if we cannot see one another. I am grateful to hear the news and to know that illness and death has not touched their home. And I’m grateful for the lesson that our failed ability to hear one another taught me.
In our trenches, the explosions from the grenades we lob at one another and the constant shelling from one side on the other makes us deaf, even to those who stand beside us as allies. We cannot hear one another, let alone the perceived enemy or those who normally go unnoticed by us. It is maybe no coincidence that in what seems an increasingly isolated and polarized world, where our echo chamber has become our support network, the suicide rates are rising at alarming rates.
To anyone out there who feels alone, and unheard, I want you to know that you are not alone in your despair. I feel it sometimes, too. I believe that it may not be tomorrow. It may not be next week. It may not be next month. But I believe that external conditions will improve and we need to cling to our practice of finding the good in bad times until the good times return and make living easier. Next year might seem too far away and so we take it moment by moment. To anyone struggling right now, I say: Hold on. Just a minute.
Let this anger, this sorrow, this fear pass. And then, find gratitude. I will be grateful if you hold on, just a minute and continue to live. This world needs you and it wouldn’t be the same without you. Even if you can’t see that, right now.
Recently I read an article in the Economist about the impacts of mass trauma on individuals and societies. In it, the author notes that this kind of trauma “can also change group dynamics. People stop trusting each other. It becomes harder to bring people back together and easier to open new wounds. If nothing is done, this can permanently damage a society—and even destroy it.”
I feel like we are at a point of choice here, and the future of our mental health, our relationships, and our very society is at stake.
In this month where our focus is on kindness, I know we can do better and we can turn this around.
There is evidence that if we can opt for kindness and make a conscious effort to trust and listen to one another and have compassion for one another we can make it through. The author writes that in recovering from mass trauma, “‘received support’ … is less important for psychological outcomes than ‘perceived support’ the feeling that people can rely on their neighbours.”
Kindness, to self and others, may actually be one of the most important things we can do right now, to save the world.
To those of us who may be tempted to be blind to the struggles of others or turn a deaf ear to their concerns because we’ve got our own, to those of us who are tempted to respond to this unprecedented time of stress and trauma by cutting off our partner in mid-conversation or by hurling an accusation at a friend, or to take out our frustrations on our children who are constantly underfoot in a time of social distancing, I say: Hold on. Just a minute. Let all this anger, this sorrow, this fear pass.
Take a breath. Exhale slowly. Do this as many times as it takes.
And then, find gratitude and pay it forward, with kindness.