By Barb Arland-Fye
On her birthday, my sister-in-law Sandy received a “gift” she did not anticipate, a profanity-laced rebuke to a political post on her Facebook page. Her critic demonized Sandy and anyone who agrees with her views. Sandy’s critic made false generalizations about her, the political party she belongs to, and her so-called “buddies.” Sandy chose to be respectful and positive in her response.
She and her husband Jeff, who have lived in six states, know many people with many different viewpoints, she said. “Today is my birthday and thank you so much for the reminder that I need to continue to educate my children that being tolerant of other beliefs is always the best course of action,” she wrote.
The Facebook post came to my attention as I began reading Pope Francis’ new encyclical “Fratelli Tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship,” released on Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the saint who inspired the encyclical. I find myself highlighting paragraph after paragraph for future reflection.
In a section titled “Social Dialogue for a New Culture,” the Holy Father says, “the media’s noisy potpourri of facts and opinions is often an obstacle to dialogue, since it lets everyone cling stubbornly to his or her own ideas, interests and choices, with the excuse that everyone else is wrong. It becomes easier to discredit and insult opponents from the outset than to open a respectful dialogue aimed at achieving agreement on a deeper level” (201).
Less than a month away from the presidential election, secular advertisements saturate print and digital news, TV, radio and social media with disrespectful and dehumanizing messages against candidates of both major parties. Granted, political campaigners have always taken jabs at the other party but the vitriol seems to be on steroids.
These ads, coupled with the misery of the persistent COVID-19 pandemic, leave me at times feeling discouraged, not hopeful. The remedy for all of this is kindness, a “pandemic of kindness,” that Chris Gall, a podcast host called for in a recent Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) podcast.
“St. Paul describes kindness as the fruit of the Holy Spirit,” Pope Francis says in “Fratelli Tutti.” “Individuals who possess this quality help make other people’s lives more bearable, especially by sharing the weight of their problems, needs and fears.”
By far, the majority of posts on my Facebook page come from people who spread kindness, including my friends, Jennifer, Kathy and Carol. Kathy shared a post that someone shared with her. The author promised to “continue to hold doors for strangers, let people cut in front of me in traffic, keep babies entertained in grocery lines, stop to talk to someone who is lonely, be patient with sales clerks, and smile at (passersby) …”
I try to smile at people whose paths I cross while riding my bicycle on the Mississippi River Trail. Most of the time, I receive warm smiles in return, which fills me with joy and hope.
Pope Francis says that if we make a daily effort to practice kindness “we create a healthy social atmosphere in which misunderstandings can be overcome and conflict forestalled.” Moreover, “because it entails esteem and respect for others, once kindness becomes a culture within society it transforms lifestyles, relationships and the ways ideas are discussed and compared. Kindness facilitates the quest for consensus; it opens new paths where hostility and conflict would burn all bridges.”
My sister-in-law Sandy took a venous comment, posted on her birthday, and promised to transform it into something positive, on the road to kindness.
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at firstname.lastname@example.org)