How do you “speak in an octave your kindness can reach” while also trying to convince people that their selfishness is killing people and prolonging the pandemic?Christina D’Onofrio
This morning on Facebook I saw a post from a young woman who grew up in a church that I served many years ago. Christina is a young woman in her mid 20s who has two jobs in New York City. For most of the week she is a full time nanny for a family that has an autistic child, but on Sundays she is the Director of Children’s Ministry at Greenpoint Reformed Church in Brooklyn, NY.
Christina is a socially conscious woman who speaks up for the needs of those who are on the powerless side of society. During this time of corona virus she has been discouraged by those who don’t mask and who are violating the stay at home orders.
However, she is also a college educated woman in a low paying job who can sympathize with those who have lost jobs and are frightened by their future prospects. Because she herself lives on the edge economically she is open to others in the same boat, even if they are acting in ways that are harmful to themselves and others.
This morning she posted an intriguing question on Facebook: How do you “speak in an octave your kindness can reach” (as poet Andrea Gibson puts it) while also trying to convince people that their selfishness is killing people and prolonging the pandemic?
With her permission, here is my response.
I love the kinds of questions you are beginning to ask during this pandemic. This is the second time in the last week that I have seen you wrestling with how to show compassion to those who are afraid and angry during the pandemic, even when the things that they are doing seem to violate common sense and the common good. I also love your image of speaking in an octave your kindness can reach. That’s a great way to do a self-examination of your heart.
In answer to your question, let me make several observations.
1. It is very difficult to show kindness on social media. Kindness is an interpersonal action while social media is an impersonal medium. To be kind to someone you have to address them as a “thou,” to use Buber’s language. The default mode of social media is to treat the other as an “it.” While you can show kindness on social media, it requires a great deal of conscious effort on your part because you are swimming against the current.
2. Kindness begins by using the other person’s name.
3. Kindness is best demonstrated, not by making public comments on a post, but by engaging the other in a private conversation over a bottle of beer (once we are free from social distancing), a phone call, or even (for your generation) through text or Facebook Messenger. People are more likely to hear what you say when you share it personally and privately.
(Obviously, I am violating this rule by addressing you in a public post. However, I am doing it because I think it may also help your friends to wrestle with the issue.)
4. Kindness takes a lot of time and work. It cannot be demonstrated in a one or two sentence comment on a post.
5. Kindness asks questions to understand and does not issue ultimatums to change.
6. Kindness does not condemn or shame others. Shaming doesn’t work anyway, but only hardens people in their position. So why waste the effort? More importantly, why waste any of the goodwill the other person may have towards you by shaming them? By shaming them you lose any possibility of influencing their attitude or behavior.
I have much more to say on this subject, but for now I’ll leave this here for you to consider. If you’d like to talk more about this, give me a call on Facebook Messenger.
So here is my question to all of you who are reading this post:
“What other words of insight or counsel would you offer to Christina about speaking in an octave your kindness can reach?”
I look forward to your answers.
Rev. Michael A. Weber
April 29, 2020
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