Rights Versus Responsibilities

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We have an epidemic of rights today and a drought of responsibility.  A number of years ago when I was a first-year teacher I had the following experience.  I was teaching at Guadalupe Area Project (GAP), otherwise charitably known as a “dropout school.”  It was mostly a school for students who had been kicked out of the St. Paul Public School System for a variety of reasons.  The school was started and run by a Sister Giovanni.  She was a leader in migrant relations on the West Side of St. Paul.  It was a largely Latino community.  Many of the residents on the West Side were recent immigrants from Mexico or Central America.

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Sister Giovanni believed in giving kids and people a second chance.  She started GAP to help students who were displaced from the public school system.  We had kids of all types and most were not traditional “school material.”  Some were chronic truants, some were chronic troublemakers, some had chronic learning difficulties, some had chronic behavior problems, and some were just lost souls.  It was a challenge working with these young folks but one I relished at the time. 

D943_130_551_1200One day a young student came to me and complained that he felt that his rights had been violated.  At the time, I took any students complaints very seriously particularly when it concerned rights.  I listened to his problem and asked him what he wanted me to do about it.  He asked if I would intercede on his behalf with Sister Giovanni, who was our principal.  I wanted to show the young man that I was concerned and caring and so I agreed to carry his problem to Sister G as she was known.  She was feared and loved by almost all students so it did not surprise me that he thought I might have more luck with Sister G than he would have. 

unnamedI went to Sister G’s office and knocked on her door.  She opened it and welcomed me in.  We exchanged some pleasantries and she asked me what I needed.  I began to explain the issue that the student had brought to me.  Sister G listened attentively.  When I was done, she smiled and nodded reassuringly.  I thought “Great, I have been successful.”  She then spoke, “This is your first year teaching right John?”  “Yes, it is,” I answered.  “Well, I have heard the issue and I may address it later, but I want to give you an important piece of advice now.  Students just like the majority of people will always demand their rights, but they seldom demand their responsibilities.”  Then, she gave me the philosophy that I have never forgotten.  “John,” she continued, “for every right there is always a responsibility.”  That was the end of our discussion.

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It is now fifty some years later and I see a government under siege by gun toting extremists demanding their first amendment rights.  I see citizens screaming their rights to not wear a mask when required by businesses or government offices.  I see women and men yelling about their rights to get grades that they believe they deserve or that their children deserve.  Everywhere I look it seems some American is on a YouTube video attacking someone because they believe that their rights have been infringed upon.

The people that invaded the US Capital were loudly proclaiming that it was their building.  The implication was that they had a right to enter it if they choose to because they owned it.  But ownership of property implies a stewardship relationship.  If you own property, you have a responsibility to take care of it.  The vandals that broke into the Capital destroyed property, stole goods, and even shit on the floors.  Is this the way anyone takes care of property that they own? 

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Rights:

Do most Americans even know what a right is or what it means to have a responsibility?  A right is defined by “Webster’s Online as:

1: qualities (such as adherence to duty or obedience to lawful authority) that together constitute the ideal of moral propriety or merit moral approval.

2: something to which one has a just claim.

In the definition above, the “just claim to something” seems to be the most common usage as it applies to U.S. citizens.  A large majority of people think that they deserve something or are entitled to something.  We have heard many pundits bemoan the entitlement mentality that is immensely popular today.  I believe that the concepts of entitlement, narcissism, and rights weave a peculiar pattern on the psyche of many Americans.  The mindset that results is overly sensitive to any behaviors or efforts that impinge on the so-called rights of these Americans. 

The Founders of the USA talked about “inalienable rights.”  An inalienable right can be defined as, “a right that cannot be restrained or repealed by human laws.”  Some examples include the following rights that are deemed as inalienable:

  • To act in self-defense.
  • To own private property.
  • To work and enjoy the fruits of one’s labor.
  • To move freely within the county or to another country.
  • To worship or refrain from worshipping within a freely chosen religion.
  • To be secure in one’s home.
  • To think freely.

There is an International Bill of Rights which lists the following rights:

  • The right to equality and freedom from discrimination.
  • The right to life, liberty, and personal security.
  • Freedom from torture and degrading treatment.
  • The right to equality before the law.
  • The right to a fair trial.
  • The right to privacy.
  • Freedom of belief and religion.
  • Freedom of opinion.

There is even a list of 30 Basic Human Rights.  Such lists are impressive if a bit naïve.  To say that rights cannot be taken away is ludicrous.  Rights hardly existed for many people even through much of the Twentieth Century.  Freedom and rights grow out of power.  They always have and they always will.  Without power, one may claim a right but never have any opportunity to practice it.  Government power, military power, police power and personal power all either defend or attack our rights.  Some governments giveth rights and some taketh away rights.  It is inspiring to think that we have “inalienable rights” but without power, an appeal to our rights is hollow and worthless.

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Responsibilities:

“Webster’s Online” defines responsibility as:

1: the quality or state of being responsible: such as

a: moral, legal, or mental accountability

b: RELIABILITY, TRUSTWORTHINESS

2: something for which one is responsible.

Looking at the definition of responsible, I wonder if any of the extremists ever considered the idea of moral or legal accountability?   Obviously no more than they thought of the idea of reliability or trustworthiness with the constitution of the laws of the country they profess to love.  How ironic, that they were chanting USA, USA, as they attempted to tear down the foundations that America is built on.  Nothing is more sacred to American democracy than a free and fair election.  However, these fanatics were willing to follow their deluded leader in his attempt to overthrow an election that was certified free and fair by almost every court in the country. 

Responsibilities do not grow out of power.  Responsibilities are the currency that we use to pay for our rights.  Nothing is free in this world.  Rights come with a price tag.  The price tag is paid for in responsibilities that accrue to our “inalienable” rights.  For instance, I have a personal right to swing my hand.  However, I also have a responsibility to stop swinging it when it interferes with the mobility of another human being.  I can ignore this responsibility, but the consequence can easily be the loss of my own right.  In a society we have many laws which become the responsibility of people to obey.  In return for this responsibility, personal rights are granted for a wide range of endeavors and activities.  This is the quid pro quo of rights and responsibilities. 

Another example is my right to my own opinion.  I may dislike a particular minority.  I may well be prejudiced against another race or ethnic group and believe them to be inferior to my own group.  There is no law against prejudice.  Nevertheless, we have a responsibility while a member of a multi-cultural society to avoid discrimination against other people and groups. 

Discrimination is an overt act and not simply an innate prejudice.  A society can tolerate a great deal of latitude when it comes to the stupidity of prejudice, but that latitude disappears when individuals are subjected to harassment and abuse because of the color of their skin. 

It is sad that everywhere we look today, individuals in America are clamoring for their rights.  Yelling in restaurants, offices, planes, schools, and private businesses that they have rights.  Screaming that the constitution gives them the right to do something without any responsibilities.  They protest that they are going to contact a lawyer and intend to sue someone since their rights were stolen.  None of these people want to recognize much less acknowledge that they have responsibilities.  They want their rights, but they do not want to pay the cost of their rights. 

Conclusions:

we-are-a-nation-of-narcissists-300x198-1What is the solution to the problem that we are facing today?  A poisonous cultural stew of narcissism and entitlement driven by a rights only oriented mentality that thinks they are above responsibilities.  I have reached the point in this essay where it would be easy to say, “Sorry, I don’t have the answer.” Or else, I could now list several bromides which may or may not have much effect.  I have the following solution which I believe in 100 percent.  I doubt that it would be acceptable to Americans as too many people have grown privileged, lazy, and indulgent in this country. 

imagesMy solution is for a National Required Service (NRS) that starts at the age of 18 for every man and woman in America.  Upon finishing high school and before starting college, every American would need to attend the National Required Service.  They would have two options.  The first option would be to choose between a two-year service or a four-year service.  A two-year service would be the minimum.  The advantage of a longer service would lie in the educational benefits that would accrue.  Serve two years and you would receive two years of financial credit towards any public education institution of your choice in the country including vocational education as well as liberal arts.  Choose a four-year tour of service and you would receive four years of financial credit towards the public institution of your desire.

The second choice facing the individual entering the NRS would be which track to join.  The NRS would have two tracks.  A civilian track would involve services like the Peace Corp or the AmeriCorps.  A military track would use the various branches Army, Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force to recruit soldiers from the NRS enrollees. 

Students would not go directly into college or the work force from high school.  Every 18-year-old youth in this country would have a responsibility to give back to the country that sustained him or her. No one except someone with a severe medical or family emergency would be exempted from this service.  No matter how much money you had or how influential your parents were, you would be legally required to attend the NRS.  Many enrollees would benefit from a chance to experience life away from home and to grow up some before entering into college or vocational training.  They would further benefit by having enough monetary credits to pay for their education or training and not to come away from school in debt for the next twenty years of their lives.

This program would convey rights to millions of youths and also a sense of responsibility.  The lingering miasma of entitlement that exists today would be dispelled as American youth learned about their responsibilities to their country.  They would be gratified by the role that they played and proud to have served their country.  We do not need a war to teach people about service to their country and to help them obtain the pride that so many military people have achieved upon completing their tours of duty. 

 

 

Compassion:  The Sixth Most Important Virtue for a Good Life

Compassion is number six of my seven essential virtues for leading a happy and successful life.  Every Saturday I start my day with the following prayer:

  • Help me to be strong and kind in the face of adversity, attacks or injustice perceived and help me to always be Compassionate in dealing with others.

what is compassionCompassion is the most important of the seven virtues.  Compassion is just one stroke short of love.  Compassion leads to love but it takes some doing to get there.  The journey involves a number of steps each predicated on a trait or behavior that is uniquely human.  In this blog, I want to describe the journey to compassion and beyond to love.   Each step of the journey is a commitment to humanity.  If you do not care about others, you will not be interested in the journey.  Compassion is the opposite of narcissism.   A narcissist loves them-self.  A person with compassion loves others.  With a narcissist, it is “all about me.”  With a compassionate person, it is “all about them.”

5aHomeless-Corbis_435_290The journey starts with sympathy.  We think of sympathy as “feeling sorry for someone.”  It is the ability to have feelings for another person.  We see another person who looks hungry or unhappy or ill and we feel some sense of remorse or regret for the other person.  We might be distressed for them or we might simply be glad that we are not in their shoes.  A part of us hurts or aches for the other person, but we do not identify with them on a deeper level.  Our sorrow goes no further than to perhaps wonder what had befallen them to bring such misery.

“Sympathy is feeling bad for someone else because of something that has happened to them.”

compassion two childrenOur next step in our journey to compassion takes understanding.  We need to try to understand others and to put ourselves in their shoes.  We must avoid separation and thinking that we are so different from others.  We must avoid judging others.  When you couple understanding with sympathy, you have taken the next step.  You have now arrived at empathy.  To have empathy for others, is to combine sympathy and understanding.  You are sorry for those who are less well-off then you are, but you do not separate yourself from them and instead you seek to find the common ground that links you to the other person.  Sympathy involves the heart.  Empathy involves both the heart and the mind.

“I always think that if you look at anyone in detail, you will have empathy for them because you recognize them as a human being, no matter what they’ve done.” — Andrea Arnold

By the way, not everyone thinks empathy is a good thing.  Paul Bloom, psychologist and Yale professor, argues that empathy is a bad thing—that it makes the world worse.  While we’ve been taught that putting yourself in another’s shoes cultivates compassion, he says it actually blinds you to the long-term consequences of your actions.  He blames empathy for war and many other social injustices.  You can see his argument for his case against empathy at:  “Against Empathy.”   This is a short 3 minute video where Bloom makes his case.  I personally think his case is fraught with logical fallacies and unproven assumptions.  However, I suppose the fact that he is a Yale professor will sway many people.   

we must actThe next step in our journey is action.  All of the empathy in the world will not make a difference if we do not take action.  Empathy + Action = Compassion.  Compassion is the way we make a difference to others.  Jesus said “Feed my sheep.”  He did not say to just take pity on them or to simply have empathy for them.  Empathy by itself does not clothe the poor, feed the hungry or help the weak.  We must make action and doing a part of our empathy for others.  This is true compassion.

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As I said before, compassion is the opposite of narcissism.  Compassion is about what you can do and will do and are doing for others.  There are many stories of compassion.  Hollywood, novelists, ministers and pastors of all stripes will tell us story after story of compassion.  We hear these stories and are touched.  We sympathize and empathize with the victims in these stories.  But are we moved to take action?  Unless we take action to help others, we can never get to true compassion or love.  Love goes beyond compassion.  Love entails pro-active measures to care for others.

Compassion + Pro-Action = Love

Compassion can involve two types of action.  It can entail reaction or pro-action.  Compassion that is reactive takes place when you see a need and do something about it.  However, there is a final step in the journey.  Love is our ultimate destination. When you love others, you do not wait to be asked or wait until the need is apparent.  When you love, you are pro-active.  You reach out before you are asked.  You seek for those that need help and you do not simply wait for them to arrive or show up on your door step.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” — John 15:13

I can recall a situation where I once had a friend in need.  I called Mike up and asked him if there was anything I could do for him and he said “No, he was ok.”  I thought that I was doing a very fine thing by being pro-active and asking if Mike needed any help.  A short time late, I found that another friend (Bob) had gone over and actually rendered some assistance to Mike.  I asked Bob how this came about as I noted that I had called Mike and he said that he did not need any help.  Bob replied: “Yeah, he told me the same thing, but I did not believe him.  Mike will never ask for help.”

acts of loveBob’s actions made a great impact on me, since I had seldom gone further in my life than either waiting to be asked for help or sometimes asking others if they needed help.  It would never have occurred to me to just show up and help.  Perhaps, you might think that simply showing up and helping someone is going too far.  However, think about yourself.  Would you really ask others for help?  I know I probably would not.  Pitching in to help when not asked may not always be warranted but I now see it as something worth endeavoring to do more often than not.

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”  — Ralph Waldo Emerson

I did not include love as one of my seven greatest virtues.  This was no accident.  Many writers have described love much more adequately than I have.  The Greeks over two thousand years ago described four types of love.  Love has been the subject of more novels, poems and songs than there are stars in the sky.  We are constantly bombarded by the use of the word love.  How many times have you been told “I love you” by some relative or perhaps a friend who seldom goes any further than their admission of love for you?

I am skeptical of love for two reasons.  First, I am still not sure that I know what it is.  Second, I hear the word used so often that I doubt anyone else really knows what it is either.  If everyone in our world who was professing love really loved, I cannot believe that we would have the wars and violence and cruelty that we see every day on the TV and in the papers.  I think “true love” probably exists but I do not think it is practical for my daily journey through life.  It is one of those things that like happiness we do not seek but it finds us.

free sandwiches for the homelessCompassion is a much more useful and practical virtue for my life.  I can deal with compassion and I can be more compassionate if I really aspire to.  I am not sure I can be more loving.  I have a hard time “loving” others whom I dislike or who do unkind things to people I do like.  I more often “love” others who think and act like I do.  I may be taking the easy way out, but if I can be more compassionate to others and if someday I am thought of as a compassionate person, that will be enough for me.  If you are further along in your journey through life, then you should consider including love as one of your “most” important virtues.  No one will be a worse person for it.  For me today, compassion for others is enough of an effort.

Time for Questions:

 Are you a compassionate person?  Do you have compassion for strangers as well as friends and relatives?  Can you be compassionate towards people of different ethnicity, philosophies, religions and political ideologies?  What makes you a compassionate person?

Life is just beginning.

“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you.  If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.”  ― Barack Obama

Faith:  The Fifth Most Important Virtue for a Good Life

Faith-of-a-childFaith is number five of my seven essential virtues for leading a happy and successful life.  Every Friday I start my day with the following prayer:

  • “Help me to be as well as to do and to have Faith in the future by living today the best that I can.”

 Please listen to Pete Seeger’s rendition of:  “You Gotta Walk That Lonesome Valley” for a musical version of what Faith is really about.  Read the comments about Pete Seeger.  He was a prime example of a man that had Faith. 

Faith is the first of the three major theological virtues.  As I thought about preparing this blog, I asked myself the question, “What is the difference between Faith and Trust?”  Or perhaps there is no difference?  I wondered if one has to be religious or have a religious affiliation to have Faith.  Most people think of Faith in terms of a belief in God or some other deity.

faithI decided that I must first understand what Faith really means.  To do this, it is helpful to deconstruct how we think about Faith and how we use the word.   I thought about how we use both Trust and Faith in common language.  For instance we use trust in English as follows:

  • Trust me!
  • Do you trust yourself?
  • Have a little trust in me.

Now if you try substituting the word Faith for Trust, it is obvious that in the first two instances, it just does not fit:

  • Faith me!
  • Do you Faith yourself?
  • Have a little Faith in me.

You will notice that in the third instance, you can substitute the word Faith for the word trust.  A grammarian would quickly note that the word Trust can be used either as a noun or a verb whereas the word Faith is primarily a noun and cannot usually be used as a verb.

It might be interesting to compare dictionary definitions of Faith and trust.

Faith: http://www.merriam-webster.com

  • Strong belief or trust in someone or something
  • Belief in the existence of God : strong religious feelings or beliefs
  • A system of religious beliefs

Trust:  http://www.merriam-webster.com

  • Assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something
  • Dependence on something future or contingent :  hope
  • Reliance on future payment for property (as merchandise) delivered : credit <bought furniture on trust

mountain climbingI think you can readily see that there is a certain degree of overlap between the two concepts. However, Faith generally seems to convey a more sectarian or theological concept of belief whereas Trust is generally used in more secular terms.  Thus, we don’t “trust” God but we have Faith in her.  Faith seems to be a term that is not contingent upon any kind of physical or logical proof.  We might not trust a person with our money without proof that they are “bonded” or trustworthy, but we would not expect such displays of material evidence when it comes to having Faith in God.  So what is the relevance to this in our lives?  What good is Faith if we can substitute trust for faith and have more security in the long run?

He replied, “Because you have so little Faith. Truly I tell you, if you have Faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” — Matthew 17:20

childThe answer seems to be (IMHO) that sometimes we can trust without evidence but generally we are better off trusting with some element of surety that can mitigate the risk of our trust being unfounded or mistaken.  Whereas, there is little or no evidence that can prove your need or desire to have Faith.  You must have Faith like a parent has love for a child.  It is unconditional.  You have Faith simply because you want to believe.  You have Faith because you accept something without conditions.  You need no proof or evidence to support your Faith.  Is this a good thing or a bad thing?   Should you have Faith without proof?  What would a life without Faith be like?  Would we be safer or happier with less Faith?

“On a long journey of human life, Faith is the best of companions; it is the best refreshment on the journey; and it is the greatest property.”  — Buddha

Buddha thought that Faith is a companion that we cannot ignore on our journey through life.   There is a story about Mother Teresa that when she was visiting Iowa many years ago and was being interviewed by a somewhat cynical journalist; she was asked if she really thought she was making a difference to the poor in India.  Her reported reply was “I am not called upon to make a difference.  I am called upon to have Faith.”  If that sounds somewhat evasive, consider the following professionals who toil diligently and with great dedication:

  • Teachersblack couple
  • Doctors
  • Psychologists
  • Writers
  • Philanthropists
  • Artists

There are no doubt dozens of other professionals who toil in areas that are not readily amenable to evidence that they are “making a difference.”  As an educator and consultant, I can readily attest to the fact that seldom if ever is there “evidence” or concrete proof that my actions and thoughts have made a difference on my students or clients.  Most of us work on day after day, motivated by one force and one force only.  That force is the power of Faith.

You must not lose Faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” — Mahatma Gandhi

Each time I write a blog, I write with the hope that something I say will help someone have a better day or lead a better life.  I have now written over 800 blogs and I have received about two dozen or so letters or emails telling me how much they appreciate my writing or how much it has helped them.  The percentage of letters received is about 3.4 percent of the blogs I have written and whose readers have been moved to write to me or drop me a comment.  And that is fine.  People are busy and many times the thought of writing to a writer is something that readers never think of.

big-challengesFortunately, the 3.4 percent of respondents have been more than enough to help me keep my Faith.  (Should I really need such sustenance if I have Faith?) Yes, I have Faith that my writing is making a difference to the world but alas, I have no proof for the empiricists, the materialists or the skeptics.  I have to ask you as well as myself to believe that I am.  It is Faith that keeps me motivated.  Without Faith, life would appear to be a futile waste of time.  Faith helps us to carry on when everything and everyone is saying to quit.  The woman in the life raft, the athlete with a severe injury, the parents with a disabled child, the poor fighting hunger, the righteous fighting injustice are all sustained by the power of Faith.

19176-Have-FaithFaith can believe everything
That we say.
Belief can increase the strength
Of Faith.
Belief is pure,
Faith is sure.
Belief looks around
To see the truth.
Faith looks within
Not only to feel the truth
But also to become the truth
.  —- Sri Chinmoy

Time for Questions:

What do you have Faith in?  What helps you to maintain your Faith?  Where would you like to have more Faith?  Do you think we have too much or too little Faith in the world?

Life is just beginning.

“Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” —- Saint Augustine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Lying Statement from Donald J. Trump

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This morning Donald J. Trump released the following statement. This comes on the heels of spending nearly four years with the help of Republican leaders and sycophantic followers trying to destroy the democratic foundations of America and nearly succeeding. Thus, as his one time followers flee the White House, like rats leaving a sinking ship and some Republicans call for his impeachement, he issues the following statement:

“Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out, nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on January 20. I have always said we would continue our fight to ensure that only legal votes were counted. While this represents the end of the greatest first term in presidential history, it’s only the beginning of our fight to Make America Great Again.” — Donald J. Trump 1-7-2021

IF you believe this man who has repeatedly lied and lied and gone back on anything he has said, you are a total fool. He has only said this so he does not get removed from office and so that he can continue to try to destroy this country. Even in this statement, he is denying reality and waiting until January 20 for an “orderly” transition.

This man needs to go to jail. There have been few people I can think of who deserve to be behind bars more than Donald J. Trump.

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The following article was written several months ago. It should now include treason as well as the deaths of thousands of people due to his handling of the Coronavirus Pandemic:

The A to Z of Things Trump Could and Should Have Been Impeached For:

Here is what some of the rest of the world is saying about Trump and his supporters.

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Kindness:  The Fourth Most Important Virtue for a Good Life

sharing-ice-cream-kids_fKindness is number four of my seven essential virtues for leading a happy and successful life.  Every Thursday I start my day with the following prayer:

  • Help me to understand the hearts as well as the minds of others and to be kind to all in word and deed.

 I confess I do not always separate hearts and minds very well.  I have a great respect for affairs of the mind but I often have much less respect for affairs of the heart.  I grew up with an understanding that logic, rational thinking and knowledge were the greatest attributes of a human being.  Compassion, sympathy and kindness were emotions that I thought would only get in the way of intellectual reasoning.  I thought Spock was hopelessly emotional despite his ability to calculate odds to a thousandth of a percent.  Spock often let his feelings get the best of him and I was disappointed with his resulting behavior.  Besides, if logic was most important, then why was Spock not Captain of the Enterprise instead of that emotional unpredictable volatile and childish Kirk.  What Captain in his right mind would leave a ship full of hundreds of crew people to go gallivanting around on the surface of some unknown planet as Kirk did every week?

2014-07-28-KindnesstoYouisKindnessThere were few heroes when I was growing up who could measure up to my standards for clear and unemotional thinking.  I grew up with a father who demanded toughness.  My father’s motto was not to “get even” but to “get one up.”  If someone hit me, he taught me to make sure that they would never think of hitting me again.  My father was 6’ 4” tall and had been a professional boxer with a 21 and 3 record.  He taught me fighting skills at a very young age.  My neighborhood taught me to disregard the “rules of boxing” and to fight with whatever I had to win.  I could easily protect myself and few people would bother me.  Somehow, I became a protector for those kids who were less aggressive and who were picked on by the ever pervasive bullies.  I kicked more bullies asses then I can count.  I was always proud to help the underdog.  Paradoxically, these traits did not make me more compassionate but made me harder and tougher.

NoActOfKindnessThrough hardness and toughness I began to forge a wall that nothing could get through.  Sentiments, compassion and empathy were increasingly blocked out by my need to be tough and to not take any shit from anyone in the world.  Each episode where toughness prevailed was another brick that helped to build my wall higher and higher.  I never thought I would get married but after getting my first wife pregnant, I “did the right thing” and married her.  It was the manly thing to do.  My dad had always taught me to take responsibility for my actions and my baby Chris was a direct result of my actions.

acts-of-kindness37One day we were in a grocery store just before Christmas.  An apparently legless man pushing himself along on some kind of a wheeled board was inside the grocery looking for some money.  I walked by him with Julie (my first wife) and ignored him.  My wife turned back and started to give him some money and I said:  “Shit, don’t give him any money, he can probably outrun me.  I will bet he is just a fakir.”  She gave him the money anyway and replied “What if he is not?”  I never forgot that comment.  I am not sure why my first wife married me.  She once said that she thought all people had feelings and emotions until she married me.  We subsequently divorced but I have to say that I probably owe my life to my first wife.  She cared for me when I was suicidal and she always looked after me when I was hurt or needed help.  Through her, I began to see what compassion and kindness were.  This journey has continued with my second wife Karen who is one of the most considerate and most compassionate spouses anyone could have.  Every day I learn something about kindness from her.

Kindness for someone like me could not happen as long as the wall was up.  I can’t lie and say there is no wall anymore.  I am not overly sentimental.  I don’t like chick flicks and I will gladly enact retribution on anyone who tries to hurt anyone or anything I value.  I love Jesus for turning the other cheek and as they say “I can see where he is coming from.”  However, it is not where I am coming from and I don’t think I will get to where Jesus went.

I can say that I have tried and am trying to be a better person and to me this means a more humane and more compassionate person.  I constantly remind myself of the quote:

“What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?” — Jean-Jacques Rousseau

As time goes by, I have seen many of my friends become entrenched in fear and uncertainty and an increased caution in living their lives.  This almost seems to be a disease of aging.  Its symptoms are fear of minorities, distrust of immigrants, intolerance towards other religions and an antipathy towards other nations.   G. B. Shaw said that “If you are not a socialist when you are young, you have no heart but if you are not a conservative when you are old then you have no brain.”

acts-of-kindness36I disagree with Shaw.  I am getting older and I still respect and uphold the values of our Founding Fathers, but I refuse to live in a gated community or allow a homeowner’s association to tell me what color holiday lights to put up.  I am not a believer in mincing words but I respect the rights of minorities and anyone else to be referred to as they want to be referred to.  I respect the rights of Indians to have their ancestor’s graveyards not dug up for commercial or even academic reasons and I respect their rights not to be depicted as silly mascots for some college team.   Trump and his supporters believe the US has become too PC.  They blame minorities for this.  They would like to live in a land where it is ok to call a Black person a nigger since we call Italians wops and French frogs.  A Black person they argue has a double standard or they apply a double standard for Blacks and Whites.  The bottom line of all this double talk is not too much PC but a lack of empathy and compassion and kindness towards others.

cop_homeless_manYes, there are extremists who want to take Huckleberry Finn out of the library just like there were Popes that knocked the genitals off of statues in Rome.  But if you have any empathy or even the slightest understanding of culture and history, you will be less apt to say “My father didn’t own any slaves.”  That is a little like replying to a woman who was raped “Well, I did not do it.”  To which I can now hear someone replying, “Yes, but no Black people alive today were slaves, so why should they be so upset?”  Yes indeed, why should they be so upset?  If you are serious about looking at a reason, please regard the following article:

These ten charts show the black-white economic gap hasn’t budged in 50 years — By Brad Plumer August 28, 2013

“Arrested progress in the fight against poverty and residential segregation has helped concentrate many African Americans in some of the least desirable housing in some of the lowest-resourced communities in America,” the EPI report notes.

And those poorer neighborhoods have a way of perpetuating inequality, the report points out: “Poor black neighborhoods also have environmental hazards that impact health. A very serious one is higher exposure to lead, which impedes learning, lowers earnings, and heightens crime rates. While rates of lead exposure have been declining for all races, African American children continue to have the highest exposure rate.”

The economic and social conditions depicted in this article would be unacceptable if they pertained to White people and you can bet that there would be a real “War on Poverty” if they did.

Caring about Black people.  Caring about minorities.  Caring about people living in poverty.  Caring about immigrants.  Caring about the hungry and sick.  This is what kindness is about.  It is not about some esoteric concept of doing good or being PC or being a patriot.

Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  —- Matthew 19:21

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”  — Mark 8:36

I have learned that you cannot show kindness by being hard and tough.  Being hard and tough means taking care of yourself at the expense of other people.  You can be a rich business person and that does not make you a good person.  Some of the richest people in the world have realized this truth and have become philanthropists who are now more focused on giving to the world rather than taking back.  Bill Gates and Warren Buffett come to mind.  Consider the record of Donald Trump as noted in the article:  “Donald Trump: The Least Charitable Billionaire in the World.”

“Although Donald Trump has described himself as an “ardent philanthropist,” he has only donated $3.7 million to his own foundation. In comparison, a wrestling company has given Trump’s foundation $5 million. He ranks among the least charitable billionaires in the world.” — Ben Davis

kindness-ivThe people that we will remember in our lives and who make the most impact on our lives are not the rich and famous.  They are the people who most cared about us and looked after us.  They were kind and loving towards us and somehow showed that we meant something to them and to the world.  They may have been our fathers or mothers or an aunt or teacher or perhaps a close friend.  How much money they had or how successful they were did not make a difference to us.  Indeed, what they gave us could not have been purchased by money.  Money doesn’t touch us but kindness does.

Time for Questions:

How kind are you to other people?  Are you kind to strangers as well as friends?  Are you kind to the poor and needy?  Do you try to spread compassion and empathy in the world?  If not, what gets in your way?

Life is just beginning.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” — Plato

“Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” ― Mark Twain

“My religion is very simple.  My religion is kindness.” ― Dalai Lama XIV

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