Cool to Be Kind?

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Maybe it’s the election cycle; the politicians seem to be taking that whole “bully pulpit” thing literally.

Or maybe it goes back to Alice Roosevelt Longworth who said the quote later attributed to sharp-witted writer Dorothy Parker: “If you can’t say something good about someone, sit right here by me.”

Whatever the origins, it’s no longer cool to be kind. It’s more important to be clever.

Listening to the political ads, you might think that it’s all about survival of the fittest, and being fit means being unkind. Is it instinctive?

You might think so, except for some recent rodent studies.

We all have seen the wordless sympathy dogs can display when we’re down in the dumps or sick. With a soulful gaze and a head on our lap, dogs offer comfort.

But apparently, this instinct for kindness goes all the way down to rodent life.

A recent study at Emory University found that prairie voles would console one another through grooming, especially if they were from the same family. The study looked at the voles’ brain chemistry and found that fellow voles in distress caused the release of the same chemical – oxytocin – that is related to maternal nurturing and social bonding.

So if our more complex brains are similarly hard-wired for compassion, why do so many resort to bullying? Does that feel better than being kind?

Not if you believe the authors of the book, “On Kindness,” psychoanalyst Adam Phillips and historian Barbara Taylor.

They argue that kindness has become our forbidden pleasure.

“In one sense kindness is always hazardous because it is based on a susceptibility to others, a capacity to identify with their pleasures and sufferings. Putting oneself in someone else’s shoes, as the saying goes, can be very uncomfortable. But if the pleasures of kindness — like all the greatest human pleasures — are inherently perilous, they are nonetheless some of the most satisfying we possess.

[…]

In giving up on kindness — and especially our own acts of kindness — we deprive ourselves of a pleasure that is fundamental to our sense of well-being.”

I’m not one for self-deprivation. So, at the risk of no longer looking cool, I think I’m going to try a little more kindness. It may not get the laughs at parties, but I’m not sure that kind of laughter is the best medicine anyway.

Be Kind

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I Love You/Miss You Now/Soon

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Being human is exquisite, although I sometimes think a little less exquisite might be a little more comfortable.

There are moments – my infant daughter laying her hand lovingly along my cheek as she nurses; my mother, her eyes intent on mine as she spouts poetic nonsense in her hallucinatory last days – that seem as yesterday. There are others, really important events like my wedding, or my college graduation, that I remember only through re-telling, but not through actual memory. And there are still other things, like my marriage, that seem simultaneously much more ancient than our married years, and much shorter.

It is this elasticity of time that makes us truly human.

More specifically, it is apparently the ability to remember the past like watching a movie, along with the ability to envision the future the same way that psychologists and cognitive scientists label “mental time travel” that makes us human. Apparently this is a gift of evolution; it enables us to learn from mistakes and never do THAT again.

It is a fascinating concept. I’m not sure I buy that it is a uniquely human skill. My dogs watch me pack a suitcase and grieve, even though I haven’t left yet. They certainly can envision the future. But maybe if there were no suitcase, my dogs would be undividedly happy.

Because, I am often divided.

The dark side of this evolutionary gift is the preoccupation with the imminence of the future. I think this happens with women more than men. It is the dark gift that makes me simultaneously glory in a visit from my daughter while mourning the brevity of the visit, envisioning the day she leaves. It paints each day, each joy, with a shadowy cloud.

Perhaps a little less humanity would mean a little more happiness.

Past and Future

DC Metro Promoting Vapid Transit

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Let’s just get this out of the way. I love shoes. I even named my blog after them.

I have way too many shoes because, well, I need shoes to walk in, to drive in, to strut in, sometimes all in the same day, which means I want shoes for each function in matching colors. Pumps, stilettos, sandals, ballet flats, boots, tennis shoes, oxfords, loafers. If I had the space, my shoes would have their own room. Maybe even their own palace.

But just because my shoes could fill a room doesn’t mean they fill my head.

A recent ad in the Washington, D.C. metro system implied that women don’t want to talk about boring stuff like metro reliability – even though it has a direct effect on getting to work on time to make money to buy those shoes – because all they want to talk about is shoes.

The women I know, young and old, love to talk. About parents, children and friendship. And healthcare. And poverty.  And music and twerking. And gay protest music in Russia. And how to stop hunger, cruelty to animals, and honor killings. And yes, about shoes.

But anyone who thinks it’s cute to diminish us by implying we ONLY talk about shiny, decorative things because we are shiny, decorative beings? They just don’t get it. Maybe they need to walk a mile in our shoes.

Metro+Ad

WMATA gives women the…shoehorn…