Guest Column: Simple acts of kindness create a better world

Published 11:00 pm Friday, October 27, 2017

Live United by Ann Austin

October has been Choose Civility month for Freeborn County, focusing on the many ways we can be civil towards each other, including the animals we share our lives with. Civility is a philosophy that spans beyond our behavior — it is part of every policy we create and the intentions behind the decisions we make for our communities.

To create a more civil world, we must be conscious of the reasons for the decisions we make and the greater implications of those decisions. We must be able to assess whether our choices will help or harm others.

Ann Austin

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When I was in junior high school, I remember a debate our government class had about the death penalty — and whether it was justifiable. It was a hard debate to have at such a young age, before any of us had been involved in the “real world.”

I don’t recall the details of the rationale people used to make their points. But I do remember one point that came from a friend I had since I was very young — she said simply, quoting from the Bible: “Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.”

I said that was only one perspective — there was also the parable of “turning the other cheek.” It was not taken well.

What was interesting to see (and honestly very painful at the time) was how the entire class joined the side of my friend, and began to personally attack me. I wasn’t disagreeing with the rationale they had, but merely asking them to consider another viewpoint — and that perhaps violence was not the best answer.

They were pretty relentless and did not consider other perspectives — but insisted their viewpoint was right. Honestly, this is one of the reasons I chose to have very few friends in school at that point in my life.

We weren’t in the position to make a fully informed decision. We didn’t know what crime the person in question had committed, their history or any other pertinent information. The points my friend and I made were not the most relevant for such a discussion.

The reaction of my classmates opened my eyes to how quickly we take a role of “power over” in cases where there was most certainly a wrong committed and a right to be angry. But the outcome of such a decision instilled with the energy of anger and perhaps fear and hate, would most certainly hurt everyone involved.

To quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Most of us are not in the role to make such difficult decisions, or create the policies that enforce them. So what do we do? How do we bring about a kinder, gentler society when it is so easy to act with animosity toward each other?

Simple acts of kindness can make a difference, and I personally believe they add up to create a better community and a better world.

United Ways across the nation have been talking about how to help heal our communities and recognize we are stronger together — that love and kindness remain governing principles of our society.

Our statewide system of United Ways — United Ways of Minnesota — have come together to encourage acts of kindness during the week of Nov. 6-10. We will start small this year, but hopefully grow every year to encourage acts of kindness during this week and throughout the year.

It’s a time of year that is tough for many, whether they will be celebrating the season without loved ones and lonely, struggling with addiction or mental illness and isolating themselves, or going through a painful transition they feel no one could understand. The holidays are a joyous time for many, but equally hard for others. Small acts of kindness can make all the difference in the world.

You can get involved by organizing your own acts of kindness, or joining us on social media, posting pictures or ideas with #LIVEUNITEDMN.

Small acts of kindness open our hearts and the hearts others, they impact decisions, behaviors and, ultimately, the way we choose to live our lives.

Together we act with kindness. Together we live united.

Ann Austin is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.