We live in a strange time.
I know you could say that about many other periods in history. Even within my own lifetime, I’ve experienced periods that are well beyond the scope of what we think of as normal. The recent upheavals with the COVID-19 pandemic certainly qualify.
But as overwhelming as that was, I still find today’s current state of affairs both unusual and striking. It’s not just that things are changing so fast and we’re all struggling to keep up. That has been a constant for much of the modern world. It’s more that people seemed so overwhelmed, so upset, and so frustrated that they’re forgetting the most basic elements of getting along with fellow human beings.
It’s true. People have always been mean, hateful, and downright cruel to one another. You don’t have to look far into the recent or distant past to see humans committing egregious atrocities on other humans. And I certainly don’t deny there have been worse times in that regard. If you’re alive today, you should consider yourself somewhat lucky. It wasn’t that long ago that such atrocities were both disturbingly common and largely unpunished.
But even with that perspective in mind, I feel like our collective capacity to hate one another has escalated considerably. You could blame politics, going back to the 2016 Presidential Election or even the 2008 Presidential Election. You could also blame the media, pop culture, social trends, religion, and everything in between. I know I’ve criticized those things plenty and will likely continue to do so in the future.
At the end of the day, though, I understand there’s only so much you can do to influence another person. Whether it’s on politics, personal tastes, or personality quirks, we’re all still individuals. We still have our own thoughts, feelings, and biases. That has always been the case. But I can’t recall a time when those elements we all share have been the fuel for so much outright hatred.
It’s easy to notice online, but it’s happening more and more in real life. Real people are committing real acts of violence and hatred towards other people for the simple crime of not agreeing with them on something, be it politics, ideology, or pop culture. It’s getting to a point where the disagreements don’t even have to be about something big like politics or religion. Just being different and existing is now sufficient to invite someone’s hatred.
That is not a tenable state of affairs.
That is not good for individuals, people, or the world in general.
You can blame the internet and political polarization all you want on this, but that only goes so far. At the end of the day, it’s people who still act. It’s people who still speak and send messages through various mediums, be it mundane or hateful. The tools we use don’t create the hate. They may reinforce and spread it. But like it or not, we are the ones that create it. We are the ones that use it as excuses for violence and hate.
I don’t deny that I’ve said dumb things on the internet. I’ve expressed hateful sentiments, both in real life and online. I’m only human and I do regret it. But I also try to counter those inclinations with something stronger. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that doing so is not that difficult. It doesn’t even require some kind of radical rethinking of your current thoughts, beliefs, or biases.
It all comes down to a simple approach.
That’s it. That’s really all you need to counter so much of the hate and mistrust that seems to infect our world at every turn. It may sound simplistic or cliched, but make no mistake. There’s real power in kindness. Most people understand that on some levels. But one man, in particular, dedicated his life to understanding it. You’ve probably heard of him. His name is Fred Rogers, better known to generations of kids as Mr. Rogers from “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.”
Now, there’s a lot I could say about him and his message. There are no shortage of stories about him that are so heartwarming, they help renew your faith in humanity. But in the spirit of keeping things simple, I’ll just share this clip that I think best explains the true power of kindness.
Please take Mr. Rogers’ message of kindness to heart. In a world as divided as ours, a little kindness goes a long way.