Kindness counts

There are many discussions in this country that we need to have that are not being had. While many people have pointed toward Washington, D.C., claiming that all our country’s ills are the fault of partisanship on Capitol Hill, just a little thought will lead us down other rabbit holes.

It’s not a chicken-and-egg scenario. Those politicians and their behavior are reflections of our society, a society in which people don’t really think about our culture in terms of the greater good, but more in terms of winning and losing.

But life is not a sport, and in a culture, when there is a wide disparity in the benefits one group has over another, everyone eventually loses. Those 1 percenters who degrade the environment hurt everyone, including themselves. Water wasters degrade the environment for everyone. Petroleum, palm oil, chemical poison producers, jungle deforesters—you name it—make things a little worse for everyone, while lining their own pockets. And yet, all their money won’t be enough to buy them comfort on a destroyed planet.

Americans need to internalize this in a very real way. It’s not OK to pollute the world just because developing countries don’t have the options we do to use more expensive and more sustainable technologies and fuels. It’s not OK to look around the world and compare ourselves to the worst of others to say we’re all right.

Americans used to take pride in our international leadership in things like human rights, respect for divergent views, freedom and bravery. But now we don’t. We judge ourselves superior, even within our own borders, informed by a warped entitlement that if we have it better than others, we must be better than others.

We’ve become a nation of cowards, too afraid of opinions to have disagreements on the most basic of topics. No, we spend years creating vast social networks among people who agree with us, slowly winnowing out dissenters, because Uncle Gilbert will attack anyone on the Facebook feed who says anything nice about Hillary Clinton, or Grandpa Bob makes inappropriate racial jokes—and we’d never cut family out of the discussion.

We live in echo chambers of our own construction. It’s beyond intolerance for other ideas. It’s an intellectual segregation. We can’t stand the discomfort thinking causes us.

We can look at almost any controversial subject in our culture and see the effects of this segregation. In the wake of the murders at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, it’s easy to relate this editorial to the topic of race, but more than that, we’re trying to say something about the quality of decorum in this country.

We aren’t calling for a return to Victorian proprieties or anything of that sort. What we’re saying is that each one of us needs to look at ourselves for signs of fear, for signs of acting on preconceptions at the expense of real thought. We’re saying that if we start from a position of kindness, a “We’re all on the same team,” attitude instead of from a position of antagonism, we’re going to end up in a better place.

Choose tolerance. Choose more voices. Choose bravery. Choose a better future.