“In times of chaos and crisis, what we all tend to do is start pointing fingers at where we think the bad guys are, where the evil is. Everybody has different opinions about that. Please do not forget that hatred or evil, whatever you want to call it, it’s intelligent. It’s smart and it’s invisible. It doesn’t have a color, it doesn’t have a race, it doesn’t have a religion, it has no politics. It’s an invisible snake.”
Lady Gaga’s speech on kindness from last year’s mayoral summit popped up on my feed the other day. If you haven’t seen it or read a transcript yet, you should. It’s strange that we live in a time where something so fundamental to being human has to be preached by a pop star for us to take notice of it, and I realize that her message can seem quite reductive to those of us ‘in the trenches’ of human cruelty. Sometimes wisdom from Hollywood or the pop-elite comes off as contrived–how could these people ever understand our problems? Although, there rears that Snake of which she speaks, the one that would divide us by class, race, gender, difference and degrees of opportunity.
I’m grateful that Gaga is using her influence for philanthropy. I admire her for her messaging and politics, which I know are divisive to many. However, what you don’t like about her–her music, her fashion, her politics–isn’t what you should focus on, and that’s the message. The message goes beyond her eccentricities as an individual. In what is a chilling symmetry, I’m pretty sure that this speech came after the Orlando Shootings, which were, until Las Vegas, among the most brutal in American history. Here we are a year later, and with a world in an uglier and more violent state than any could have imagined, and I’m sure that the message of human kindness to cure the world sounds like the ranting of a delusional elite.
But it’s not, since we haven’t gotten to the point where kindness is sincerely practiced. Indeed, we practice false kindness oh so well within our many fragmented and labellized circles. Identity politics have become a swamp where all who tread end up drowned, and are no less destructive than the forces they were created to battle. We have become masters of isolation who believe ourselves charitable or kind simply because we hashtag prayers or preach solidarity within our circles for the climbing, daily toll of victims of violence or poverty. Empty gestures, since they reach no one but ourselves, and our circles; I’m no less guilty of these same tokenisms than many. Still, the way forward isn’t to feel bad about what we haven’t done or can’t do, it is to feel good about what kindnesses are within our reach. Again, I can only look at myself and my own behavior here, and each of you will have to have an honest examination of your own lives to see how ‘kind’ a person you really are. It may seem funny, all this introspection and arguably self-indulgent psychology as a path to enlightenment. It wouldn’t be necessary if we didn’t have a society that praised narcissism and ignorance.
What do I have on my Kindness Calendar this year? Marching for women’s and indigenous rights, speaking out for victims, mending family ties, hours to be given to a soup kitchen this winter. Do I want to do these things? Not particularly; each has or will cause me a degree of discomfort. Though if you’re feeling discomfort that’s usually the first sign that you’re on the road to being a better person, because we are programmed for gratification first, selflessness second. Doing something selfless will indeed upset your equilibrium.
Strip away the notion that we are all special. Because we’re not: we’re one link in the chain, and that chain is formed of billions. Together, as a species, we are remarkable, and some links are sturdier than others–that’s their compassion, their kindness, their tenacity to hold others together. And still, beneath that strength is the calm and understanding that they are part of the collective. The Dalai Lama gets this. As does Lady Gaga. I hope that one day I can be one of those links forged of the strongest human metal: kindness.
I hope that you can be one, too.
All my love,