A Point of View: Right Now, We Need Radical Kindness

This past month, I watched the following on TV:

  1. “The Great British Baking Show” on Netflix
  2. “Annihilation,” Patton Oswalt’s new stand-up comedy special
  3. Danica Roem winning a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates

From each show or person, I realized I was learning something about the possibility for radical kindness.

The Great British Baking Show: Every single one of my friends is obsessed with this show. It features a group of amateur bakers from the UK competing against each other in a series of baking challenges. One baker is eliminated every episode until one is crowned the winner. It’s your standard, run-of-the-mill reality cooking show.

What’s striking, however, is the complete lack of drama. The show is all about the bakers baking, and nothing more. There’s no catfighting or sabotage, and in fact, the contestants actually help each other out even though they are competing against each other. The show is just delightful, and I can’t get enough of it.

Annihilation: In his latest comedy special, Patton Oswalt discusses life after the loss of his wife (I promise it’s funny!). His wife Michelle was a true crime writer who researched gruesome murders and other unsolved crimes for her books. She saw the worst of human cruelty, and when Patton said, “Honey, everything happens for a reason,” she disagreed and said, “The world is chaos, be kind.” He says, in the midst of all his grief, and all the crazy things that are happening in the world, he remembers his wife saying, “The world is chaos, be kind.”

Danica Roem: Roem beat 13-term incumbent Robert Marshall to be elected the first openly transgender state lawmaker in the country. Delegate Marshall once referred to himself as “Virginia’s Chief Homophobe” and authored a failed bill to restrict transgender people from using the bathroom that corresponded to their gender. When asked about her opponent after winning the election, Danica responded, “I don’t attack my constituents. Delegate Marshall is my constituent now.”

The reason watching these three shows or people — and loving them — stood out to me is that I now wake up every morning wondering what celebrity, company, or product I am expected to start hating that day. Louis CK admitted to masturbating in front of female colleagues, Uber employees reported routine sexual harassment at work, and Yuengling Beer endorsed Donald Trump for President. The social media backlash was swift and harsh. I will probably not watch Louis CK again (one of my favorite comedians), I have #DeletedUber, and I don’t drink Yuengling. When friends take an Uber or order a Black and Tan, I’m probably too quick to raise an eyebrow in derision. More often than not, my fellow “woke” millennials and I are quick to judge and go from fans or users straight to absolute hatred.

But after reflecting on my television experiences this month, I realize that I can still be a feminist, a moral citizen, and responsible consumer, and still be kind. The lack of kindness I can sometimes display implies that the people behind the actions I find reprehensible are inherently evil and incapable of redemption. I’d rather live in a world where wrongdoers are compassionate yet tragically misinformed. By no means does a kind response imply complacency to immoral actions. Instead, it places the responsibility on me to ensure that my fellow citizens change their behavior.

It’s easy to be kind in good times. It’s easy to buy somebody a great birthday present when they have given you a great gift for your birthday. It is much harder, and demands a great deal of compassion, to be kind in the midst of anger, betrayal, and grief. Yet, I think that it is in these moments that we choose to be kind over making a snarky response that we are able to live up to the best of our potential and become radical examples of what we want for one another. The bakers could let each other fail, Patton could choose to be bitter, and Danica could have easily criticized her opponent with a hashtag-worthy response. Instead they choose radical kindness, and I think we can too.

About Nebu Kolenchery

Nebu Kolenchery is a public health professional who agrees with Sir Geoffrey Vickers in that the history of public health is “the constant redefinition of the unacceptable.” He is a consultant at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, GA. (The views, opinions and positions expressed by Nebu are his alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of The Winters Group, Inc.)

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