In summer, I notice I tend to get stuck on the issue of incivility a lot. I get it, it's hot and we're all cranky (frankly, I worry about some of those people who love weather like this; my friends know who they are). But really, is that a good excuse to act like a jerk?
Then again, there are those who are just naturally jerks. They think debate means you name-call and lie about the other side, but the other side doesn't get to answer back because the other side might bring up facts. They think they should get what they want just because of who they are or what they believe. They call for the worst punishment possible (for real or imagined crimes) for anyone who isn't part of their group, but want leniency or the whole process thrown out as corrupt for one of their own. Jerks are loud and insistent and suck up all the oxygen in the room.
However, there are plenty of people who exist in lives of quiet kindness. I spoke with friends Friday who are honest, hardworking and genuinely kind, and I would love to be just like them when I grow up. I've met people who bent over backwards to help someone they don't know get an air conditioner to their home because they saw them struggling with it in the parking lot, then asked for nothing in return. And I can't say enough about my little circle of women friends who jump in to help when needed.
That's what I'd like to see more of, and I know that we as a people are more than capable of that.
We all have problems, but the way we handle them says a lot about us. Do we constantly blame others for what's happened to us, or do we recognize that we had at least a little to do with our situation? Do we lie and say there is no problem?
Or do we try to confront the problem and solve it, even if it may take a while (few problems are really easy fixes, especially when they involve our psyches)?
I think you'll find that the people who confront the problem tend to be the people who believe in The Golden Rule, treating others as they want to be treated.
"Kindness is more than behavior," writes professional counselor Steve Siegle on the Mayo Clinic Health System blog. "The art of kindness involves harboring a spirit of helpfulness, being generous and considerate, and doing so without expecting anything in return."
Quite frankly, that's how it seemed most of us were living until the last decade or so, when it became more important to lie, name-call, and boast about how much we don't care about others. But again, the jerks are raucous and obnoxious, and have been given license to be even more so because of politics (my least favorite thing in the world, followed closely by unrepentant jerks). Because of them, we're not noticing the quiet people who are just kind as a matter of course. It's who they are, and they wouldn't change for the world.
Maybe it's the neighbor who brings around some treats just because, or the person in the grocery line who gives someone else a few dollars to cover the rest of their order if they're a little short. Whoever they are, they generally don't want recognition, but for others to pay it forward and be kind to others.
And being kind isn't just good for the world around us, but for ourselves, according to Siegle. "Kindness has been shown to increase self-esteem, empathy and compassion, and improve mood. It can decrease blood pressure and cortisol, a hormone directly correlated with stress levels. People who give of themselves in a balanced way also tend to be healthier and live longer.
"Kindness can increase your sense of connectivity with others, decrease loneliness, combat low mood and improve relationships. It also can be contagious, encouraging others to join in with their own generous deeds. ... Physiologically, kindness can positively change your brain by boosting levels of serotonin and dopamine. These neurotransmitters produce feelings of satisfaction and well-being, and cause the pleasure and reward centers in your brain to light up. Endorphins, your body's natural painkiller, also may be released when you show kindness."
The Mayo Clinic even has something to guide you in the art of kindness: the Kickstart Kindness program.
Now does being kind mean that you can't call out wrong when you see it? No, not at all, but it should be done in a constructive manner. Recognize, though, that there are people dedicated to tearing others down.
On the Internet, many of them are called trolls, and they constantly make up wrongs done to them by other commenters. The rest of us (definitely including me) have to understand that feeding the trolls just encourages them. It's best to ignore them, but if you can't, remember that the burden of proof is on whoever makes a claim, not on the people who respond, so stop wasting your time doing their work for them.
Maybe if we give them a good lettin' alone (seems I've heard that from my opinion colleagues), they'll realize that no one cares about their vitriol. That by itself would make the world a little kinder.
Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Email her at email@example.com. Read her blog at blooper0223.wordpress.com.