Personal Journeys with Gramma

Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.

If You Can Be Anything, Be Kind

When you see a bumper sticker or internet post about kindness, do you automatically think too liberal, too cheesy, or too passé—a childlike device for simplistic minds? Do you feel itchy and vaguely guilty when you see someone helping a stranger—as though the act somehow criticizes you? I was raised to stay out of other people’s business. Keep driving. Don’t get involved. The situation could be a set-up. Perhaps people should keep to their own lanes, pay their own way, “stick to your own kind”—as lyrics in the stage play WEST SIDE STORY suggest.

Recently, my husband and I were delighted by the program “Soul of the Ocean” (S41, Ep6) on PBS. Living in a land-locked state, our exposure to the sea is strictly via video, so discovering myriad marine species enacting partnerships with members of other species for mutual benefit was a revelation—shark buddies, for example. The popular villain of the waves hanging out with other shark species as though they were teenage boys at the mall looks just plain weird. Do they enjoy the company, the variety, or what?

Humans have an idea that we invented friendship, but if so, how do whales or dolphins or other species know to ask us for help now and then? We’re accustomed to smiling at videos of land mammals playing or assisting one another, but fish? Surely it’s all instinct.

Humans have a spotty history of swinging wildly between cooperating to protect each other and trying to wipe perceived enemies out of existence. A film such as A MAN CALLED OTTO (starring Tom Hanks and his son Truman Hanks) feels like a whoosh of cool, clean air in a sweltering, combative world. It’s a yet more cheerful remake of the foreign film A MAN CALLED OVE. Within the film, a bitter but lost widower is repeatedly—perhaps accidentally—saved from successful suicide by his neighbors and quirks of fate. He discovers that life has meaning only in tandem with other lives, the ways in which we touch one another when we pause to lend a hand, to care, or to destroy.

We humans don’t often celebrate kindness as we do accomplishment, probably because we expend so much energy, so many resources, teaching and practicing competition. I was told competition is an educational holdover from the first classrooms of testosterone-laden young men striving to prove their dominance. (Not much was changed when cooperation-oriented females were permitted to join the equation.) The saying (credited to Dale Earnhardt) goes something like “Second place is the first place loser.” We look around us and see what our contests have won. But so-called lower forms of life seem to recognize the value—the ultimate practical necessity—of cooperation. What makes us a higher form, again?

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