Saturday, January 14, 2012

Small Kindnesses and MLK

During this week-end where we remember Martin Luther King and the huge gains of the Civil Rights Movement, I think it's important to stress that small kindnesses can change the world too.  I yearn for sweeping policy shifts as much as the next person.  I long to be remembered for transforming my society.  But we're not all called to do that.

We are called to be kind to the people around us.  When I think about yesterday, a day of tiring meetings, classroom observations, and other work duties, what I will remember is the kindness of the student worker in the bookstore where I went to pick up my new campus parking sticker.

I said, "I'm here to get a parking sticker, but I just realized I brought no ID with me."

The student worker said, "But I know that you work here."  And he handed me the forms to fill out.  I might mention that these forms only require information about my car (make, model, license plate #).  The form doesn't require information from my driver's license.  It does require my employee number, which I've memorized.

I've had other people who also knew I work with them insist on seeing my ID.  And here's a student who says, "You came to observe my class today.  I know who you are."  Both of those responses came from workers who were lower in the caste system which is academia.  One response insisted on knocking me down a peg whilst being unhelpful.  One response bestowed kindness and gave me a sense of well-being that lasted all afternoon.

I could go further and say that these kindnesses can transform the world just as surely as the larger Civil Rights Movement did.  I could argue that the Civil Rights Movement was rooted in the need for small kindnesses.  Those early activists gathered together to comfort each other after being in the larger world that was full of disrespect and meanness.

Imagine how the world might have been different if the Montgomery public transit system had been committed to small kindnesses:  every weary person gets a seat on the bus after a long day at work.  If Rosa Parks hadn't had to make a stand by not standing, would the Civil Rights Movement have been launched?  Certainly not in the same way.

Small kindnesses soften our souls so that we're ready to attempt larger kindesses.  If we treat the people in our immediate circle of daily life with gentleness, maybe we'll be ready for the transformative work that the world needs.  Maybe we, too, can follow in the very large footsteps of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King.

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