There was an interesting story linked to in my Facebook feed this morning, and I’ll add the link to the bottom of this post. It was about a man named Daryl Davis, an African-American blues musician who has spent over 25 years fighting prejudice and bigotry not by speaking at rallies or organising protests and demonstrations, but by intentionally approaching individual members of the Ku Klux Klan, one on one, and then becoming their friend. What a simple thing. So simple, and some might say (some being me) so stupidly dangerous, that the risk/reward ratio wouldn’t seem to justify the effort at first.
In the article, he talks about being prepared for violence and discusses one of the very rare times it happened, when he put one KKK member in the hospital and another in jail. He also claims to have personally inspired over 200 people to quit the Klan, and it’s a claim I tend to believe because his methods, his approach and the attitude he uses, speaks to the little boys and girls that were born with their humanity intact before it was overshadowed by exposure to the ideologies and propaganda rife in the environment they grew up in. In The Nature of Kindness, I talked about that from an academic perspective. Daryl, a talented man from Chicago that has played with Jerry Lee Lewis, Muddy Waters, and even President Bill Clinton, puts into real-world practice.
I lean towards the notion that if even one man smartened up and came away with a new point of view because of this, it’s a successful life’s work. Good thing Daryl doesn’t and keeps on going.
You can read the article if you like and decide for yourself what you think, but what I came away with was confirmation of a thought I’d had rolling around in my head and had even put into the notes section of this particular post idea last week. Turning the other cheek is more than a biblical cliche, so overused it’s lost all its clout, but a real thing, with real and practical effects not just for those we turn that cheek to but for ourselves as well. Another point-form note under that one reads, “Why be nice to a bully?” It’s like freaking kismet, isn’t it? I don’t believe in destiny, but I’ll reap the benefits of it when they come to me none the less.
There was a short while some time ago when I had occasion to get a large coffee (double cream, no sugar) from Mickey D’s very early a few mornings each week. On those cups is a coffee reward card and a sticker you could peel off for it, and when the card had ten stickers you’d get a free medium hot drink. I collected a small handful of these cards but never used them myself. Instead, I would put two into an envelope and on the front write, #ivegotyourback911 (a hashtag and non-profit organisation working diligently to support first responders) with the intention of handing them out to paramedic crews I might run across in my travels. My own anxiety made that a tough thing to do, but I did it more than a few times, usually sneaking up to an ambulance and sliding it under the windshield wiper like a thief in the night. I even taped one to the front door of an ambulance base once. It didn’t cost me anything (except some nerves), I wasn’t losing anything I’d worked hard for (except some nerves), and it was a nice gesture of thanks for an often thankless job. Once a crew even took a photo of the cards and my scrawl on the envelope and posted it to Twitter, and someone who knew me pointed me to it. What a thrill!
What did this do, though? What were the real-world functional results aside from a couple of people getting a free medium coffee, or hot chocolate, or double half-caf soy latte with no foam? (Okay, it was McDonald’s, not Starbucks, but waxing humourous is kinda my thing.)
I felt good, that’s the biggest thing. It raised my sense of well-being by injecting a bit of those selfish, egocentric, I-did-a-nice-thing feelings and put a very wide grin on my face when grins were few and far between. Also, and less important as far as this is concerned, is that two folks doing a hard job, maybe having a very trying day at it, would smile as well because when you are the recipient of the kindness of strangers it shifts your entire perspective twenty degrees towards the place on that spectrum labled All is well with the world. Whether that would last for a day or only until the next hard call isn’t important. Even if it changed immediately, there would still be a lingering awareness that would sit comfortably on the sidelines, maybe waiting to inspire another smile later on down the road.
It’s been awhile so I can’t remember which, but it was either Nietzsche or Rand that said there is no such thing as true altruism. That altruism, if it means giving of yourself with no thought, expectation, or receipt of reward, cannot exist in our current society because of the nature of the culture we’ve built. Sounds more like Rand, actually, now that I think about it. By that definition, I would agree, though I haven’t always when it comes to either’s ideas. There is a reward, each and every time, and at its most basic it is simply the elevation of our own self-worth. It is not a bad thing.
Let me repeat that for the sake of emphasis: Feeling good about yourself when you do something nice is not a bad thing. Toss back that little shot of happiness and pat yourself on the back, then go do it again the next day. It is a palpable effect of kindness that too many people give not enough credence to, and that’s a shame. You don’t have to change the world, only yourself, and sometimes only for those few moments, and then you celebrate that because enjoying the feeling will maybe help you do it again.
I have often forgiven the self-glorification some people indulge in when they do good things because, quite frankly, they do good things. None of this means I approve of going to that level, though. My point is that you shouldn’t feel bad about feeling good.
A good friend of mine, when discussing this with me, has called kindness a muscular strength, powerful, not a weakness in any sense and one of the most intrinsic pillars of our humanity. She flexes that muscle, I do when I can, and certainly Daryl has been doing it since he was a young man and first asked a member of the KKK, “How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?”
Nobody is ever a perfect human (certainly not me). We can try to be good ones, though, by working that muscle out in the real world like leg day at the gym.
Bad example. Everyone hates leg day, but you know what I mean.
Check out the article here: Killing Hatred with Kindness
Also, check out #Ivegotyourback911 and consider buying one of their very cool beanies or t-shirts!