Sometimes my local bagel shop reminds me of the bar from the TV show “Cheers”: the folks behind the counter know everyone’s name and what people like to order. They schmooze as you wait and catch up on your life.
Everyone chats with each other as we wait in line, whether or not we know one another. It’s a very friendly and welcoming place.
So the other day, as I was waiting for my order, I struck up a conversation with the person behind me and told him I liked his t-shirt.
He explained he was a special-needs teacher at school and that it was “Got-Kindness T-Shirt Day”. It began about a year earlier as part of an anti-bullying campaign at his school. Since the inception of the campaign, every teacher and every student wears that shirt once/week. They use the t-shirts as an entry point to change behaviors and attitudes about how students and teachers treat each other. It is part of a larger over-all effort involving workshops, dialogue, discussion and so much more to show that “kindness counts.” The campaign has definitely changed the atmosphere at his school – and people ask him about his t-shirt whenever he wears it.
We are living in an era where people have forgotten how to be kind, where the art of civil discourse has been lost, where vitriol and venom spew out of people’s mouths constantly and where hatred and enmity seem to prevail.
When the would-be leaders of our nation are modeling behavior showcasing bullying and disrespect, exhibiting hostility and mistrust, name-calling and slandering others, what does this teach our children?
In a world where every week the news is filled with another incident of discrimination, terror, mass killings, hatred and war, what message comes across as we keep hearing more and more unkind words against one people or another?
At the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on Monday evening (July 25, 2016), First Lady Michelle Obama stated: “When they go low, we go high.” She was referring to the fact that she and President Obama teach their daughters to take the high road when someone attacks their father and maliciously accuses him or slanders him or says horrible un-truths. Do not lash out. Do not stoop to their level. There’s another way to behave.
As humans, we each don’t need to have the same opinion. We don’t need to believe the same thing. It is perfectly fine to disagree. But we need to do so respectfully. I am entitled to my opinions, and you are entitled to yours – as long as neither of our opinions comprises anyone’s safety and well-being. We can respectfully agree to disagree.
We need to remember that each of us is made “b’tzelem Elohim – in the image of God.” And we need to treat each other as God’s special and beloved creation, with kindness, love and dignity.
As theologian and philosopher Albert Schweitzer once said: “Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust and hostility to evaporate.”
I think about these ideas every Friday evening as I read the words from our prayer book, our siddur, Mishkan T’filah (CCAR, page 157) which introduce the prayer Mi Chamocha:
In a world torn my violence and pain,
A world far from wholeness and peace,
give us the courage to say, Adonai:
There is one God in heaven and earth…
Let us continue to work for the day
when the nations will be one and at peace.
It is my hope, my prayer, my dream that the rhetoric of “violence and pain” will soon end. That people will come to understand so much more can be accomplished by living a life of compassion, a life of understanding, a life of dignity and a life of kindness.
ובִמְקוֹם שֶׁאֵין אֲנָשִׁים, הִשְׁתַּדֵּל לִהְיוֹת אִישׁ
In a place where there are no human beings, strive to be human. (Pirkei Avot, 2:5)