Small Kindnesses in a Hate-Filled World

Few could fail to have been moved by the recent news (and news reporting – but that’s an inflammatory issue for another post) of American journalist James Foley’s death at the hands of Islamist militants in Iraq, or haunted by the images below of two of the many Yazidi girls who have been caught up in a war that’s not of their own making – one who looks little older than a child but is forced to carry a rifle to protect her family. Such stories and images are heart breaking, but, for westerners, it is still somehow so hard to grasp that atrocities like these are taking place on such a large scale when the comparatively ‘civilised’ society in which we live is at the opposite end of the spectrum of humanity.

So many terrible, evil things are happening all around the world, and though we fortunate folk may feel sickened, we also feel powerless to help. And, granted, when it comes to the poor souls being persecuted in Iraq, Syria, Gaza and all the other places where oppression, violence, corruption and hatred are as widespread as the oceans between us, we ARE powerless. But there is one thing we can do: Reach out to the people in our immediate vicinity, undertaking acts of kindness that will bolster the collective morale and prove not only the strength and beauty of the human spirit, but also that goodness still exists in the world. Just like this man, hairstylist Mark Bustos in New York, who gives up every Sunday to roam the streets in search of homeless people who need a haircut, whilst his girlfriend takes the trouble to ask them what they want to eat (rather than giving them scraps and leftovers). You might think a haircut is a shallow thing, but he said this of one of his most memorable beneficiaries:

“After offering him a haircut and whatever food he wanted to eat, he didn’t have much to say throughout the whole process, until after I showed him what he looked like when I was done … The first thing he said to me was, ‘Do you know anyone that’s hiring?'”

It’s small acts of kindness just like this that have the power to restore people’s faith – in themselves, in the world around them, and in humanity itself. I’m not saying we should all go out with a pair of scissors every weekend, but I am saying this: We may not have the power to heal the world, but the power to heal those closest to us is absolutely in our hands – if only we choose to acknowledge and act on it.

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Making Peace

Yesterday, after two days of proofreading a document created by a colleague, I sent my comments back in an email. I was tired and feeling overworked, and didn’t stop to think how the email would make that person feel – I was just glad to have ticked another task off my long to do list. Today when they responded saying my comments had upset them my initial (tired and overworked) response was to roll my eyes and feel anger bubbling up inside me. But then I stopped, went for a walk outside, took several deep breaths and thought hard about the situation. My email wasn’t rude, per se, but with hindsight it was tactless. The document I’d been critiquing was this person’s baby, so inevitably my seemingly brusque comments were misconstrued as me thinking the entire document was rubbish, which is far from the case.

The incident made me appreciate just how easy it is for small issues in the workplace to turn into much larger ones, simply by virtue of people’s lack of empathy towards one another due to their own personal issues. And, on a much bigger scale than that, how it’s exactly this lack of empathy towards others that leads to hatred – and wars. This issue is particularly pertinent today as the US launches air strikes against IS militants in Iraq, who are currently attempting to murder the Yazidis and Christian minorities whom they have displaced from their homes, in what seems to be verging ever more closely on an act of genocide. What makes these militants – and, for that matter, the Israeli and Hamas fighters in Gaza – think they are better than those they seek to wipe out? Don’t they realise at our core we are all the same: Human beings who are trying to make our way in a conflict-ridden world?

I will never forget the stories I read as a child about the soldiers in the front line during the First World War, who downed their weapons on Christmas Day and came out of the trenches to play games with the opposition; English and German soldiers united in one moment of peace, when just twenty four hours later they would be tearing one another apart.

It makes me sad to think of all the hate in the world, and days like today remind me that I’m not immune to creating animosity myself, even when I don’t mean to. Our moods are not always easy to control, but if we all put a bit more effort into thinking how they affect other people, and appreciating that those people are working through issues of their own, I really think there would be more peace in the world.

Happy Friday everyone – be nice to each other.

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Fight hate with love

Like many I was shocked and horrified to hear of the bombs that rocked yesterday’s Boston marathon, killing three – among them an 8 year old boy – and injuring many more. When I expressed my outrage at this latest tragic atrocity, however, I was shocked when someone challenged me to explain why it was any more tragic than the almost daily bombings in Iraq or Syria.

Ever since it was asked of me that question’s been playing on my mind in a loop – in much the same way as the video clip of the Boston marathon bombs going off has been played on every network since it happened. Did I feel more sad hearing about the marathon victims than when I heard news reports of innocent civilians being blown apart in Iraq? If so, what did that say about me? Was it possible some form of racism, classism or snobbery had crept into my consciousness without me even noticing its existence? Did I, in truth, value the lives of those people in Iraq less than the lives of the marathon spectators?

After a thorough period of introspection I’m pleased to say the answer to those questions was a resounding no. Whether they lost their lives in Boston or Iraq, I feel the same deep sense of sadness, the same feeling of shame that there are other human beings capable of such terrible acts of malice and hatred against their fellow men, women and children. The Boston bombings aren’t, therefore, more tragic; not at all. But, for those of us in the western world who are fortunate not to live in war torn countries, it is more shocking. Why? Because, quite simply, it’s far less common for a bomb to go off in the middle of a marathon taking place in an American city than it is on a normal day in an Iraqi city.

And there’s another reason. We see so many international news reports featuring the images of bloodied, limbless children’s corpses and wailing men and women beating their chests with grief that we are systematically desensitised to their effects. We’re used to death in Iraq and Syria. What we’re not used to is death in our own communities – or at least not the kind of death we witnessed yesterday in Boston.

No matter where terrorism strikes it sends shockwaves through not only the community whose beating heart it strikes, but also across the world. But whilst each time they strike the terrorists may think that they are winning the fight, what their hate-filled hearts will never comprehend is that through love for our fellow men it is we who will win the war.

I fell completely head over heels with this, a tiny model scene in the wall of a toilet in a Manhattan restaurant. I think it’s quite appropriate given the end of today’s post.