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My View: Embracing kindness can improve the world

By Wes Carter

On the morning of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, many forums were held around the country in which people were discussing the changing administration in Washington and the nation’s expectations about the next four years.

What emerged out of those discussions were sentiments about how devastatingly divided we are as a people, and along as many lines (race, gender, ethnicity) as one might care to define. These sentiments alone were enough, but then there was the sense that we were experiencing a national crisis, and thoughts of the future were leaving people with much uncertainty, doubt and, in some cases, fear.

We have certainly had concerns with the arrival of new administrations in the past, but I don’t recall that fear was ever so integral a part of the transition. One wonders if this will now strike a new chord in the transitional procedures for the future. Fear – what a strong emotion.

After exposing myself to this bit of valueless reporting, I was on my way into the bank one day when a very frail and elderly lady, who was on her way out, stepped to the side to hold the door open for me. I wanted so desperately to hug her and to thank her for being so gracious and kind.

The appropriate response, of course, was to do the latter, which I did. She smiled and said, “I am doing my good deed for the day.”

At that moment, my “thank you” seemed so weak and ineffective, and yet they are two of the most powerful words in the English language. She was my recall: kindness.

And then there’s this story, about a mother with a baby in one arm and a cart that she was pulling with the other (perhaps all of her worldly goods) making her way across the U.S.-Canadian border: one of so many displacements these days. Two Canadian officers who were witnessing this woman’s struggle pulled from the trunk of their car a baby’s seat into which they placed the child, then gave assistance to the mother who could now proceed in comfort, assured and fearless about her possibly being turned away. How weak could a “thank you” have possibly been in that gracious moment of caring?

Scenes like these are repeated every moment of the hour and every hour of the day by millions of people all over the globe. At every moment of life, someone, somewhere is helping another in crisis, and even in good times.

And as a society, any society, there will always be those people who are willing to do the very best that they can for someone, some stranger who might be down to his or her last.

And we do realize, of course, that kindness is not the preserve nor the enjoyment of all. One either has it or one doesn’t. But unlike hatred, it can never be legislated, and for that we should feel the most grateful.

Ironically, it is in times like these that I sometimes think of the politician who comes and goes, and for those who have lost their way, they never go fast enough. But that really is not the significant point.

The point is that life and circumstance belongs to and depends on the actions of right-thinking people, and what they do for others gives lessons and meaning to all of our lives.

For as long as we continue to open those doors with the sincerest of smiles, our society, any society will manage its humanity quite well. It is our kindness that gives meaning to life, and life to those who have lost their ability to care.

Wes Carter is a former member of the University at Buffalo faculty.
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