Sadly, it is no secret that 2015 was marked by too many acts of violence and hate. As the year drew to a close, New York Times opinion writer Jessica Sterns left her readership to wrestle with an unsettling idea: “We Americans are living through a dread-inducing age.” Her article “How Terror Hardens Us” reflects on the disturbingly frequent mass shootings and terror attacks that characterized 2015 and their dangerous psychological effects on our population. Sterns points out a very real concern that has come to light as a result of these tragedies: “What really concerns us is not so much what to call the crime, but whether the ideology of the killers is shared by others, suggesting there may be more such attacks to come – and how we will respond going forward.”
Our country’s traditional responses to terror are rooted in the hurt and anger we experience after the fact. The Guardian recorded President George W. Bush’s promise to America after September 11: “We are going to find out who did this, and kick their ass.” Similar messages of bold aggression are embedded in recent xenophobic suggestions to keep Muslims out of the U.S., for fear of events such as the Paris bombings of November 2015 taking place on U.S. soil. Ironically, these types of responses may only perpetuate the anger and hate that drove those acts of terror in the first place. Personally, I feel a response that balances compassion and resolve is our best shot at preserving peace in our nation.Typical of an election year, 2016 seems to be amplifying alternative voices, and many of these voices are calling for a measured response to this “dread-inducing age.” Sentiment to restore the values of love and kindness appears to be taking hold just in time, thus protecting us from, as Sterns suggests, the “hardening” effects of terror. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is one of these voices. The CBS Local website, for example, published Clinton’s response to an Iowan asking “how the country could confront a new wave of hate and fear.” Clinton surprised her audience with her response: “We’ve got to do everything we can to weed out hate and plant love and kindness.” Some might question the possibility of officially implementing elements of compassion such as kindness in politics. Anaheim, a major city in Southern California, has already laid the groundwork for a political system that operates on the importance of kindness, proving that Clinton’s desires for a more compassionate nation are within reason.
Since the election of Mayor Tom Tait in 2010, the city of Anaheim has acquired the label as the Kindest City in America. Tait has made good on his promise to restore kindness to Anaheim through campaigns such as “Make Kindness Contagious Month,” initiated in February 2012 and “Anaheim’s Year of Kindness” in which the city would seek to accumulate more than one million acts of kindness throughout the year 2013. An interview with the OC Register revealed Mayor Tait’s hopes that such acts of kindness would ultimately create a more supportive community. The “Hi Neighbor Program,” enacted in late 2012, which encourages neighbors to get to know one another, reflects Tait’s desire to “unify disjointed factions and reinforce safety. By being connected, we will be safer from crime, better prepared to deal with disasters and generally…a more resilient city.” Anaheim continues to follow the path of kindness striving toward a better community. Anaheim, California, it seems, embodies Clinton’s vision for a more kind society and even caught the attention of the Dalai Lama. According to the Los Angeles Times, in July of 2015 His Holiness chose to celebrate his eightieth birthday in Anaheim in support of Mayor Tait’s kindness initiatives.
This request for love and kindness is simple, and its simplicity is part of what makes the concept rather attractive. One does not need a larger army, more resources or a better economy to successfully fulfill the visions of Mayor Tait and Clinton. All one needs is the optimism that these elements of compassion, if practiced, will contribute to the betterment of society. While it might not be the only practice necessary for eradicating the rising hate and anger in our world, it is a step in the direction of creating a society that is both resilient in times of terror, and willing to accept the support of its neighbors. Our Colgate campus isn’t perfect, but I sense a community of kindness; and it has made all the difference. If we continue to make kindness a habitual part of this campus culture, we will be cultivating classes of students who not only have experienced the transformative power of kindness first-hand, but recognize the pivotal role kindness plays in preserving peace everywhere.