Nearly 30 years ago, upon his inauguration as the 41st president, George H.W. Bush spoke of a “kinder, gentler” nation arising in the future. Looking around today in one of my gloomier moments, I wonder if we haven’t become a meaner and rougher society, at least as far as the national conversation goes. Politics aside, just in day-to-day dealings with people and institutions, it seems that what we hear about is a certain hardness and lack of civility that has placed so many individuals at odds with one another, with a corresponding increase in resentment, lack of respect and inability to have a discussion that isn’t couched in anger.
So, some of you may ask, what else is new? Such is the approach that’s marked the first two decades of the 21st Century. It’s affected me at times as well. I recall some years ago, dealing with an insistent and rather obnoxious New Jersey-accented account manager for a credit card company, I truly wanted, if I were able, to reach through the phone line and knock his lights out. Forget about being kind or using advanced social skills with this loser; sometimes these situations make you as reprehensible as the the guy or gal on the other end of the conversation.
But you know, it seemed it didn’t have to be that way, or even was that way. We used to employ a little more finesse, kindness and deference in conflict resolution, even if said conflict was an unsettled credit balance.
We all acknowledge that things have changed markedly in America since that day in 1989 when the elder President Bush took office with what I believe were sincere thoughts about helping our country. With that transformation in attitude has been a disturbing shift in interpersonal contact in which someone is ready, willing and able to disrespect you and dismiss you as one of the myriad of branding labels now available in our society. Makes you think hermits have the right idea.
My impression — and I’m not claiming it’s the correct one to have — comes from the daily assault on our senses from various forms of media. And don’t think I’m advocating some kind of filter on what surrounds us, even to maddeningly brief news headlines on radio. As much as you hate to see or hear some viewpoints, we live in a country where self-expression is still vital and the core of a democracy. I only think a bit of restraint on the bile and a little more respect for humanity as a whole is in order.
But has kindness been forgotten? From what I’ve seen locally in the last few weeks in coping with various health issues that have confronted my family, I’d have to say no. From the emergency medical technicians from Gallia and Cabell counties to the professionals at St. Mary’s Hospital, there has been an outpouring of concern and consideration for which we will be eternally grateful.
You may say, okay, big deal. That’s their job. But this went beyond stoic professionalism and skill in their daily tasks. They took time to be concerned about your situation, offer needed advice and ensure that the family member was comfortable and stable for the trip to the hospital. When we ultimately had to take my mother-in-law to St. Mary’s ourselves early last week, the EMTs were kind enough to help her down the front porch steps and into the car for our trip to Huntington.
In addition to messages of sympathy and requests to help out if needed, we even received an offer of a chicken and noodle dinner from the Vinton Masonic Lodge. These are comparatively little tokens from people and organizations who don’t have to care about your plight, but they do, and the world is a better place for their actions.
For the most part, kindness is a piece of the area’s fabric that has burrowed in for the duration. I’m talking about dinners, clothing giveaways, offers of rides for people without transportation, all sorts of activity to help our neighbors. That’s why it was so gratifying to see the March 29 feature by Morgan McKinniss in the Gallipolis Daily Tribune about Gallia Academy High School students who are recognized for random acts of kindness to others in the school, people they don’t even know but who are aided by a kind act.
And as the year progresses, even national news logs stories of anonymous individuals buying a struggling parent’s Christmas gifts for their families, or of a service worker finding an unexpectedly huge tip from a restaurant customer. Once more, little stories in comparison to other headlines, but somehow more memorable and even inspiring to share your good fortune with people who could use some themselves.
You’ll always find hatefulness if you go looking for it, but along the way there is a lot of good will that turns up as well.
Kevin Kelly, who was affiliated with Ohio Valley Publishing for 21 years, resides in Vinton, Ohio.