The Humankindness Revolution

It might be the people along protest march routes handing out bottled water to perfect strangers. It might be the people cheering healthcare workers. Or the guy piping a tune on his bagpipe from his urban rooftop every night at sundown for 100 days. “And nobody complained,” he remarked after calling it quits when he ran out of tunes. Or it could be my long-married gay friends who sponsored a persecuted young man seeking asylum and are caring for him “as the son we never had” in their small apartment while trying to guide him along the complex road to safety in the Land of the Free. But these and a zillion other small instances point to the same large truth:

Kindness is making a comeback. I believe it will become an integral piece of what emerges as our New Normal.

If that happens, it’ll be thanks to a lot of people already hard at work to make it so. Over at randomacts.org they are out to “conquer the world one random act of kindness at a time” – in case you think kindness-building has no lofty goals. The Random Acts people are in the business of fostering “small acts of kindness, such as inspiring someone to buy a stranger a cup of coffee, to much bigger acts of kindness like building a school in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua.” If you have a really good idea for a randomly kind act, they will even help you out with some funding to make it happen. (Or you can go fund them so they can fund more kindness.)

And then there is Kindness.org, which I discovered the old-fashioned way: by Googling the word. If you Google humankindness – which is what I really wanted to write about – you’ll find that word has been co-opted by Dignity Health. Dignity re-branded itself not long ago from Catholic Healthcare West. It is kind to its patients unless they want contraception, an abortion or legal Medical Aid In Dying. Full disclosure: I believe in contraception, reproductive choice and legal MAID, denial of which seem unkind to me. But back to Kindness.org, where they believe that kindness matters more than ever.

The kind folks over at Kindness.org have actually analyzed it all. Looking at 259 kindness stories posted on their site – good reading if you’re feeling low – they started with creating a definition: “Kindness is the act of doing something beneficial to someone (often at a cost to oneself) with an accompanying emotionally positive motivation.” That builds on the dictionary definition of kindness as “the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.” The kindness I believe will be part of our New Normal is going to be both quality and action, so I’m going with both definitions. Among those 259 kindness stories were discovered things like: about an even split between planned and spontaneous acts; or, people were kind for a variety of reasons – they wanted to help or make someone feel better; and it made them feel better to be kind. They also found that fully 76% of those acts involved kindness to strangers. If this isn’t enough to start a kindness revolution – concurrent with the other simultaneous revolutions for good that are now underway – I don’t know what it

You can learn more about the endeavors of the Kindness.org people on their kindlab blog, right here on Medium. And if you need scholarly proof of the incipient kindness revolution I offer the following;

My friend Steve Heilig, a distinguished public health professional, editor and environmentalist among other things, recently published a weighty article titled On Radical Uncertainty and Silver Linings in a Post-Truth Pandemic. It’s a thorough examination of the triple crises currently facing our battered planet: the coronavirus pandemic, racial unrest and the whole “post-truth” business, all of which currently involve more dark clouds than silver linings. But even in the experience of a deep-thinking ethicist/editor, the kindness movement crops up:

“On a more personal level,” Heilig writes at the article’s conclusion, “I have been heartened by countless smaller, local, human gestures, from spontaneous neighborhood helping circles assisting the most vulnerable, to lines to donate blood and to volunteer at food banks, to support for those in need financially, and more, including more efforts at “correcting” misinformation. There are actions that we all can take in our own realms and spheres of influence.”

Welcome to the kindness bandwagon.

This essay appeared earlier on Medium.com, a fine site for ideas and inspiration you may want to visit.

End-of-life compassion slowly winning

If you think you might die some day, and you’d like to do it with as much dignity and as little pain as possible, things are looking up. Which is encouraging to me, a believer in end-of-life and reproductive rights both — and progress in one out of two causes is something to cheer about.

credit acpinternist.org
Credit acpinternist.org

The outlook for a compassionate end to this life in the U.S. continues to brighten. In a recent New York Times article summing up advances that are being made in multiple states,reporter Erik Eckholm quotes my good friend Barbara Coombs Lee, President of Compassion and Choices: “There is a quiet, constant demand all over the country for a right to die on one’s own terms, and that demand is likely to grow as the baby boomers age.”

Lee, a baby boomer herself, is in a position to know. She has been at the forefront of the death with dignity movement since it was in its infancy. We first met when I was researching Dying Unafraid (Synergistic Press, 1999) and she was head of Compassion In Dying, headquartered in Seattle. That group had formed, I learned during a weekend spent with leaders and volunteers in the late 1990s, “because we got tired of reading headlines about people with AIDS jumping off of highway overpasses. And we thought there had to be a better way to die.” Compassion In Dying later merged with End-of-Life Choices, which had itself grown out of the somewhat more in-your-face Hemlock Society, to become Compassion and Choices. (And I am proud to have been a part of C&C since its inception as a volunteer, former local board chair, current leadership council member and general cheerleader.)

In those early days, all was not optimism. While Oregon was proving that a physician-aid-in-dying law could work, efforts elsewhere were failing with heartbreaking irregularity. The one most painful to me culminated in the defeat, in 2006, of a bill which would have legalized compassionate dying — in other words, with the aid of one’s physician if one so chose — in California. Assembly members Patty Berg and Lloyd Levine introduced the legislation, and polls showed overwhelming support among Californians, including a majority of California physicians. Victory seemed all but certain, despite a vigorous and expensive campaign against the bill by the Catholic Church (not most Catholics, just Catholic officialdom) and the California Medical Association (of which a small percentage of CA doctors are members.) At the judiciary committee hearing chaired by then CA Senator Joe Dunn  — who had loudly proclaimed his support —  Dunn suddenly had a change of heart. Something about a conversation with his priest, he said in a rambling commentary. Dunn then cast the deciding vote against the bill and it died an unnatural death in committee. A few weeks later Dunn was termed out of the California legislature and took a job — surprise, surprise — as CEO of the California Medical Association. It was not my personal most encouraging experience with the democratic process.

Now, however, sanity is prevailing. The option of choosing a compassionate death is legal in Washington, Vermont, Montana and New Mexico and the cause is gaining in other states. As Steve Heilig, another highly esteemed friend who is co-editor of the Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, points out in a current letter to the New York Times, “Progress is possible if carefully and ethically pursued.”

If only there could be a careful, ethical pursuit of progress — instead of the ongoing, reckless, politically and religiously-driven backward march we’re seeing — for reproductive rights.