Is it really ‘kindness?’

Ellen DeGeneres is defending her friendship with the former president, saying it’s always best to be kind. But being kind to him is a show of disrespect toward the people who died as a direct result of his policies, both foreign and domestic.

Kindness is a wonderful thing, and we really do see far too little of it in this toxic culture.

But is it kind to say George W. Bush is a good man? Or is it maybe an undeserved absolution of his crimes?

I do believe most of the really horrible crimes in the Bush administration were perpetrated by his vice president, Dick Cheney. But Bush was the boss. He approved those policies, including an illegal and ill-advised war on Iraq that cost hundreds of thousands of lives; torture; “extraordinary rendition,” or the kidnapping and torture of people who hadn’t been convicted of any crime; the shaping of public policy by corporate people who stood to gain billions; the failure to move on any of the issues that affect people in horrible ways.

Despite all these things, he walked away a free man, able to start painting his dogs, his feet in the bathtub, whatever. He’s carefree, and that seems to be a sign to me that his crimes don’t cause him any trouble at all.

What bothers me is his lack of remorse for all of it.

It’s one thing to be kind to someone you disagree with — as much as I oppose the current occupant of the White House, I do have a number of friends who voted for him — but disagreeing on policies is one thing; being friends with the people who put those policies in place is quite another. Believing the lies is one thing; perpetrating them is quite another.

To treat him kindly is a form of disrespect toward the many, many people who died as a result of his administration’s policies, both foreign and domestic.

I’m working on being kinder, especially on social media. I do not allow disrespect of others on my wall — I will block repeat offenders after a single warning.

But, let’s face it, it’s hard to be nice to someone who thinks poor people are lazy because that’s what they’ve been fed by Fox News and others. It doesn’t take a whole lot of critical thinking skills to see through the lies. On the other hand, when you’re working two jobs and you still can’t make ends meet, you don’t have a whole lot of time and energy left over to do the research on your own.

Kindness is important, and we do need to be a whole lot kinder to each other. But people who commit the kind of crimes perpetrated by the Bush administration don’t deserve our kindness. They need to face consequences for their actions. If we think a woman who steals a coat deserves the same sentence as a cop who shoots a neighbor in cold blood after walking into the wrong apartment, we’re more than a little confused about the meaning of consequences.

We live in a country where justice is for sale. Rich people pay a tiny percentage of their wealth for serious crimes while poor people sit in jail for months for lack of access to cash for bail, losing their jobs, homes and even their children.

I think if we’re going to talk about kindness, we need to talk about kindness toward those people Jesus referred to as “the least of these, my brothers and sisters.”

It would be kind to guarantee access to health care for everyone.

It would be kind to pay people a living wage in exchange for a week’s work.

It would be kind to make sure children in poor school districts got the same quality of education as kids in wealthy districts.

It would be kind to hold cops accountable for the murders of unarmed black men.

It would be kind to take immediate and serious action on climate change so that our grandchildren will inherit a habitable planet.

It would be kind to offer real social, economic and racial justice.

I’m happy to be kind to people who disagree with me; I will not be kind to the people who tell the lies and make disastrous and lethal public policies.

Kindness matters, as does your vote

Keshia Thomas, one of the marshals in America's Journey for Justice. She walked from Selma, Ala., to Washington, DC.

Keshia Thomas, one of the marshals in America’s Journey for Justice. She walked from Selma, Ala., to Washington, DC.

I met Keshia Thomas in the heat of summer, walking along roads in eastern North Carolina with America’s Journey for Justice, a march from Selma, Ala., to Washington, DC. I was impressed immediately with her kindness and wit, and not at all surprised to learn about her “15 minutes” of fame.

Keshia was just 18 when she put her life on the line to protect a white supremacist who was being beaten by an angry mob.

She covered this man with her own body to protect him from the mob, even though she knew he hated her because of the color of her skin.

A human life is a human life, she says, and no one should have to suffer violence.

Today, Keshia travels the country and abroad, speaking about kindness and respect, doing what she can to help bring about peace and justice.

“I’ve always believed in justice,” she says. “I’ve always just wanted to be of service. Anybody can do it; you don’t need a PhD, just a desire to be of service in any way you can, large or small, every day. It’s the foundation of everything.”

In Baltimore, during the unrest after Freddie Gray died in police custody, she took a young man by the hand and told him not to throw the rock he was holding. She taught him how to protest peacefully and encouraged him to shake hands with the police.

“I left behind a young man who will work for justice in the right way, a young man who has no police record to hinder him,” she says.

So it came as no surprise when we were talking politics that she’s supporting Bernie Sanders in this presidential election.

“Bernie’s one of us,” she says. “When he says, ‘not me but us,’ I believe he means it. This isn’t about Bernie’s ego, this is about what we can all do together to bring about change.”

When Sanders was asked about fracking, his simple answer was, “No.” He knew the damage fracking can cause because he consulted scientists.

“He didn’t consult the DNC to ask about Democratic policy, he talked to scientists and made up his own mind.”

Of course, a vote for president is just one piece of every American’s responsibility, Keshia says.

“It’s about Congress and it’s especially about your vote in local elections,” she says. “The way the Tea Party gained power was to start in local elections — school boards, town councils — and work their way up. That’s what we have to do now if we want to see things change.”

In short, Keshia works for the peace and justice she wants to see in the world. Sometimes that means helping one person in a small way; sometimes it means supporting a candidate in whom she sees her own ideals.

Change can be large or small, and often big change comes in small increments. You can change one person’s view on one issue, and if you do that one day, and again the next and the next and the next, that kindness and respect will spread like ripples on a pond from a single pebble dropped into the water.

Another person on the Journey for Justice, the late Middle Passage, was a perfect example of spreading love one person at a time. M.P. often chest-bumped or hugged police officers, knowing their positive encounter with him might change the way they see black men.

Donald Trump’s nasty rhetoric is contagious, but so is kindness. We can combat vitriol with small acts of kindness, and with a vote for a kind and sensible man.

Instead of walking away from Trump’s mean-spiritedness, we can find something in common with everyone we encounter and build on that. In fact, that might be the only way we will bring about positive change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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