Beyond Kindness

From the time my children were born, I had one goal: I wanted them to be kind. Of course, I wanted them to be smart and competent and independent and strong, but none of that mattered unless they grew into genuinely kind human beings.

As they grew, though, I realized that kindness wasn’t really enough. No, kindness is actually not that difficult. The real goal was to teach them empathy. A truly good person can consider how others would feel and make decisions based upon that information.

Sitting here in 2020 during a global pandemic, my goal has shifted even more. Yes, they should be kind and empathetic to individuals, but even more importantly, they are learning the invaluable lesson of understanding the common good.

As we take our daily walks during remote learning “recess” time, I find myself repeating the same phrase, “We’re not doing this for us; we’re doing it to help others.”

My children, and all of the other children, teenagers, and young adults are sacrificing their childhood experiences right now. They’re missing out on sports, school, field trips, recognitions, and graduations. They can’t play with their friends outside or give their grandparents hugs. They’re absorbing mountains of anxiety from the adult world around them, despite our best efforts to shelter them.

Despite the massive disruption of their lives, most of these kids are taking it all in stride. Mateo and Lucy might register a small complaint here and there. They surely miss their friends, teammates, and family, but they are amazingly content and stable. My teenage students who will be missing their high school graduations and activities are resolute. They are finishing up their work and planning for college, whenever that may be.

For all of the accusations of kids these days being pampered and self-absorbed, I’ve mostly seen acceptance and a willingness to do what’s right for the common good. In fact, I think they’re handling all of this a great deal better than many of the whining adults on social media.

After the election in November 2016, we saw an outpouring of calls for kindness. Most of these social media posts and community movements urging kindness toward others were well-intentioned, I’m sure. But, they were also a tacit acknowledgement that our country had just elected a leader who embodied the worst of all qualities, whose cruelty and lack of empathy are not anything we want our children to emulate.  

Now, with the Covid-19 pandemic comes another plea for kindness. People are being urged to be kind and considerate to each other and to do their best to empathize with their fellow citizens’ anxieties and struggles. This is absolutely necessary and the right thing to do as human beings; However, this global pandemic has laid bare why moving beyond kindness toward a much more complex and difficult act of humanity is so important. We can be individually kind to each other all we want, but if we don’t all move toward what’s best for the common good, we cannot survive. This is a reality that  individual acts of kindness just won’t fix.

What I’ve witnessed over the past months from my fellow Americans gives me hope that maybe, just maybe, we can again put the common good above our individuality. The majority of Americans are doing just that now. As we comply with stay-at-home orders, adhere to social distancing guidelines, and even wear masks in public, we are contributing to the common good. As we miss out on parties, nights out, ball games, and hugs, we are sacrificing for others. All of these actions that we selflessly take not only bolster the common good, they teach our children to prioritize it.

When the reality of the pandemic started setting in, I was appalled to see people hoarding essentials and stockpiling ammunition and weapons. The more cynical of us seemed to think that it would be an apocalyptic, everyone-fend-for-themselves situation. Instead, what we witnessed was the goodness of others. Young people volunteering to shop for their elderly neighbors, schools delivering meals to students, offers of assistance flooding social media. The outpouring of kindness and concern for our fellow human beings has been inspiring. 

Now granted, not EVERYONE is contributing. From the armed terrorists protesting in state capitols, to the social media warriors posting bogus advice from quack TV doctors, conspiracy theory YouTube videos, and memes about their freedom to not wear a mask, there are clearly folks out there who prioritize their individual rights over what’s best for the entire community.

The struggle between individual rights and the common good, our responsibility to our communities, is especially American. Most Americans are profoundly aware of their rights, but might be very surprised about their responsibilities. This crisis has highlighted how our system can be restored by focusing more on our responsibilities to each other.

Not everyone who is pushing back against the stay-at-home orders is selfish and misinformed. It’s easy to put the common good first for someone like me. My husband and I are both able to work from home and aside from missing sports and hugs terribly, I’ve had to sacrifice very little. People are hurting right now, and it’s understandable that they are apprehensive and scared. As with most crises, the most vulnerable of our fellow citizens are the ones suffering the most. Those of us who have more have the responsibility to contribute more in order to curb the suffering of others. 

The people I most admire are the ones who have sacrificed their jobs, their wellbeing, their livelihoods for others. These sacrifices have come from many of those who have the least to give. From the essential workers at grocery stores to the janitorial staff at hospitals. Hairdressers, coffee shop owners, restaurant servers, and postal workers. And of course, those healthcare workers who risk their health and that of their family every day. All of these people put the common good first and we are all better for it.

My heart breaks for children right now. When I was tucking Lucy in the other night, it dawned on her that she would not be able to return to her school. Her face fell and her lip quivered as I confirmed that she would miss her soccer season, choir concert, third grade clap out, and recognition. I told her that it was okay to be sad and that I was very sad, too, but that we had to do what we could to keep other people safe. She recovered quickly, smiled, and said, “That’s OK Mom.”

That resilience and willingness to do what’s right for all of us is a lesson our children are learning and accepting right now. Kindness is important to teach and practice, but prioritizing the common good can help our children’s generation build stronger and more resilient communities in the future. Our children are learning this lesson, and we adults must also take note.

As a thank you for our children’s sacrifices, I hope that as we emerge from this pandemic, we can continue prioritizing the common good. This crisis has shown us that access to health care, living wages, equitable education, functioning government agencies, and a strong social safety net are critical. Leaders who consult experts and use facts and science to make decisions are crucial. Elected officials who care about ALL of their constituents and not just their base make better decisions that unite our communities in times of crisis.

This is the first of many crises our children will have to endure and it’s impossible to predict most of what they will face. There is one looming crisis, though, that we can be sure they will battle: Climate Change. In fact, over the past three years and even in the last months, under the cover of a global pandemic, the Trump administration has assured that the effects of Climate Change will be exacerbated. Our children will undoubtedly face the horrors of a crisis their parents and grandparents were complicit in because we did not consider the common good of our children’s generation.

All of the death and destruction caused by this pandemic and amplified by an administration that was unprepared and unwilling to put the common good ahead of all else, is a lesson for us. It also presents an opportunity for change. What if we experienced a collective community epiphany to move beyond our individual acts of kindness toward an elevated embrace of community?

What if we rewarded the sacrifices of the most vulnerable, not with hashtags and ribbons, but with a commitment to support them with policies that prioritize instead of marginalize? What if we recognize Climate Change as the existential threat it is to our children and insist with activism, action, and voting that our government leaders don’t ignore the warnings of scientists again? What if we voted for leaders who reflect the kindness and goodness we want to see in our children?

2020 has been a real shit show, I acknowledge that. But it can also be the ultimate opportunity for us and our children. We can collectively resolve to yes be kind, and then move far beyond individual acts with a greater commitment to our communities and our children’s future through the elevation of the common good. Wouldn’t that be a kindness that extends to all?

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