Many years ago a very wise Jewish rabbi observed: "There will be wars and rumors of wars." He knew what he was talking about. History confirms his words. "Wars and rumors of wars" (seasons of violence) are, and have always been, an unchanging component of life on planet Earth. And so it is with a certain measure of fear and trembling nowadays that we check our favorite news source. That's because we have every reason to suspect there will be yet another story of an act of terrorism performed against innocent victims. Or, there will be an all-too-familiar story of an act of gun violence in a church, school, or theater. Rarely, it seems, are our fears unfounded. Is there an antidote to threats of violence and the sense of fear they evoke? People of faith think there are at least two responses in which we can find courage and hope.
First, the reality of God is stronger than those who abuse the name of God. For thousands of years, violence has been perpetrated in the name of religion, despite the universal teaching of religious texts to do unto others what you would have them do unto you. Radical movements have always sprung up in the name of God, all the while defying the nature of God. The good news is that those movements come and go, but the nature of God remains constant. One of the ways that nature is described is found in Isaiah's language, "Prince of peace." Peace always outlasts violence. History is clear about that. It is also clear that love is stronger than hate, light is stronger than darkness, and right is stronger than wrong. Goodness, while frequently under assault, has a staying power that evil consistently lacks. Therefore, we have every reason to believe that the frightening extremists who dominate so much of today's headlines are temporary phenomena. They will come ... and they will go. But love and justice will remain. Such has always been the case.
The second principle in which people of faith are confident is that we are divinely appointed to create a culture of kindness. If God's ways are to prevail, such will be accomplished by God's people. The same wise rabbi referenced earlier said to his closest associates the night before he died: "This is my commandment, that you love one another." Love, if it's the real deal, is more than mere emotion. It is instead a worldview that results in consistent actions. When he commanded them to "love one another," it was not a shallow suggestion to adopt a syrupy, sweet personality. He instead challenged them to do the hard work of loving. He challenged them, by daring word and sometimes dangerous deed, to create a culture of kindness.
The refrain of a familiar song says: "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me." Movements of peace rarely begin in the halls of governments but in the hearts of individuals. The same is true with kindness. It cannot be legislated, but it can be demonstrated. And when demonstrated authentically and sincerely, kindness becomes contagious. The way parents treat children programs them for the future. Treat a child with kindness, and he or she will learn to treat others the same way. Surround a child with an environment of anger or abuse, and he or she will replicate as an adult what was learned as a child. Consistently practice kindness and courtesy in the work place, and more often than not others will become less adversarial and more courteous. Smile at your neighbor, even the nasty-natured one whose behavior is often rude and off-putting, and in time his behavior may be sufficiently changed that it will honestly elicit smiles. Compliment your spouse, and he or she will respond with a new measure of affection. Consistently criticize your spouse, and he or she will become detached or defiant. Express interest in others, and they will become more interested in you. Be patient with others, and they will extend greater patience to those within their circles of influence.
So how do we begin to create a culture of Kindness? We can practice peace in our personal lives. Everyone can be a peacemaker in their personal relationships. And in doing so we contribute to a movement of peace, even in a violent society.
- Treat others with courtesy.
- Listen with patience.
- Work diligently to find common ground with people, thus providing a safe and constructive foundation for dialogue about interpersonal differences.
- Avoid stereotyping based on anything (gender, sexuality, race, age, economics, religion, political party affiliation, etc.).
- Think before you speak - and, having done so, then think again. And when standing your ground on a moral issue, do so with civility (remembering the advice of St. Paul to "speak the truth with love").
- Express affection for others.
- Pay compliments.
- Celebrate the other person's achievements without having to remind them that you, too, are equally accomplished.
- Tell people you love them. Then, reiterate that message. And then do something to show them you meant what you said.
- Smile at people. Greet them with good wishes.
- Do not forget the power of phrases like "Thank you," or "I appreciate what you did for me." You can continue adding to this list, as it's virtually inexhaustible.
Kindness is contagious, and it begins one person at a time. You and I can become the catalysts of a movement of kindness that is deeper and stronger than temporary movements of anger or evil. We have it within our power to contribute to a new culture which, over time, can become the prevailing culture. That is because not only is love stronger than hate, it is also infinitely more appealing. So, we have two options: to weep and wail and wring our hands in fear, or to do whatever is required to help create a culture of kindness.
The author is Senior Minister of Marble Collegiate Church in New York City. The church is the oldest Protestant organization in North America in continuous service and has a global following online - with worshipers in 47 countries connecting through its live-streamed services.