The value of being a brother to the “other”
We can always choose kindness—a helpful reminder at a time of political turmoil
Last week was emotionally strenuous for me. I couldn’t help feeling like a pendulum swinging from encouraged to concerned after watching President Obama’s farewell speech and President-elect Trump’s press conference the following day. The stark contrast between the two was jarring and it took me some time to process in a productive way.
Eventually, I gained a simple insight. When one year ends and another one begins, nothing really changes. And yet for many, it presents the opportunity to start fresh, to set new goals, to resolve to be better. When a country’s leadership changes, I understand that there are serious political, social, economic, and environmental implications, but there is something that remains constant. Regardless of what a political leader says or how they behave, positive or negative, it ultimately does not determine how I will speak or act. I can always choose to be kind, honest, respectful, and open. The opposite is also true. It was true in 2016 and it will continue to be true in 2017.
A few days later, this lesson was brought home to me in an unexpected situation. I was out for lunch enjoying a tasty meal with friends. I happened to glance out the window as a crime scene was taking place. A woman was walking across the street carrying a box in her arms when a police car pulled up beside her. It became evident that she had shoplifted when two officers emerged from the car, took the box away from her, and put her in handcuffs.
The whole incident occurred in a matter of minutes, and gratefully, everyone stayed calm. The policemen were not harsh with her and the woman did not protest. Clearly what the woman had done was wrong (albeit a relatively minor transgression) and the police were simply doing their lawful duty by arresting her. But there was something so normal about how it played out, regular almost, that I found chilling.
I didn’t even see the woman’s face since she was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, yet I found myself feeling distressed and deeply sad for her. It made me wonder what had brought her to this point. Not why she had stolen a particular item, but what was the story leading up to this moment that caused her to take something that did not belong to her. It seemed that there was nothing I could do from where I was sitting, safely inside, in a separate world with my friends and food.
Later, still thinking of the woman and disturbed by what I had witnessed, I explained to a friend how helpless I had felt. She asked me a straightforward question: what are you going to do about it? At first, I was exasperated, “Nothing! What could I possibly do now to help this woman?” My friend agreed that I probably wouldn’t be able to change the woman’s day, but she took it a step further. She reminded me that there is always something I can do when I see someone in passing who appears distant or downtrodden.
I can smile. I can make eye contact. I can exchange a greeting or start a conversation. I can offer a hand. Maybe they will end up being the person I share a meal with that day. It may not seem like a life-changing action but you never know what difference it might make for someone else. Allow that person to be seen and heard. Let them feel human. Be a friend, or a brother.
When I reflect on my life and what satisfies me, it’s not my achievements or my things. It’s connection. It’s people—sharing, laughing, and being together—that bring me joy and a sense of belonging. Without connection, it’s easy to feel a lack of worthiness. I know I’m not the first person to reach this conclusion but it continues to be reconfirmed in my experience.
We can’t afford to undervalue the importance of human relationships, from our closest of kin to those we only come into contact with momentarily. Because in every instance that we choose to be compassionate rather than callous, we do indeed make the world a better place.