Can Kindness reunite America, Part III by Vanessa Garcia

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L-R, Vanessa Garcia, Audrey Vinci and Jessica Yang. Student speakers who have thoughts about kindness. Photo by Loreen Berlin

Without question, one of the most impactful decisions we’ve made in 2022 is to publish this series of articles written by high school students about how kindness can reunite America.
I have heard from readers and even heard one of the articles quoted at a public meeting, so I again thank the three students who wrote them.

This week we run the third of the top three speeches written under the prompt “Can Kindness reunite America?” Interestingly, Vanessa Garcia has entitled her speech, “A House Divided,” after a phrase used by Abraham Lincoln.

With institutions and citizens now lining up on the left and the right, one can hope that somehow, we break the spell and heed the words of President Lincoln’s warning before it’s too late.

While the nation faces real enemies, we have seemingly been instead been directed to focus our political fire on our neighbors. People next door no longer have different views, they are portrayed, for political purposes, as “radicals,” left and right, out to destroy the country.

The worse they make it seem, the more money that flows into the coffers, both left and right. The vast majority of Americans, somewhere in the middle, stay out of the fight to avoid a political bullet they know is sure to come.
So the question remains, how long can this “House [be] divided” before it falls for good?

We already have red states and blue states, we have an assault on public institutions and institutions being stacked, one way or the other, to suit political purposes.
It seems that we ourselves, have allowed the destruction of public interest, the lost colony of the common good, leaving us on the a political divide from which there is no easy return.

While it is impossible to determine at what point the divide reaches the point of no return, for sure the threat is sufficient to beg the question of why can’t kindness be given a chance to reunite our widening political divide.

Creating a home where kindness can live

By Vanessa Garcia

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” These are the words of Abraham Lincoln, spoken when the country was upended, split apart, engaged in a bloody war that drove apart families and cost the lives of thousands of Americans. Nowadays, thankfully, we’re no longer involved in a devastating civil war. But never has America been so divided on so many essential principles, many of which make up the foundation of what our country was intended to be. We may not be in a time of open warfare, like other parts of the world tragically are, but families are still driven apart by political ideologies and the blood of innocent Americans shed by senseless violence. But despite the severity of our situation, there is light at the end of the tunnel. This wave of conflict and disunity has a very simple solution: kindness.

What is kindness? Kindness is simple yet powerful, humble yet great. Kindness is civility, but more. Plainly put, kindness is love, but it also has many different, interrelated elements, and it is in this diversity where its power lies. Think of it as a house with many rooms, a place abounding in Southern-style hospitality and warmth. Imagine if I could transport you to a place like that, give you a chance to visit this Southern mansion and help you better understand the transformative and unifying power of kindness… [speaking with Southern accent] So come on in, let me take you on a little tour of the House of Kindness.

Kindness is the owner of this house, but he rents it out to his tenants, people like Acceptance, Gentleness, and Service. Starting with the Porch of Hospitality – this is Acceptance’s favorite part of the house, and as such, he fills it with an amiable, welcoming air and makes sure that visitors are loved and accepted no matter what their state in life might be. Here on your left as you enter is a trash can, where visitors are asked to dispose of their ego before coming in.

Moving on to the living room, there is always a hearty fire crackling in the hearth, the perfect place for you to sit down and pour out your worries and struggles to none other than Mrs. Compassionate Listening herself, who always listens to and carefully considers all sides of a story. (By the way, this living room is the very place where Stephen Covey got the inspiration for his 5 th habit of Highly Effective People, seek first to understand and then be understood.) Now on to the kitchen – we’ll only glance in here, because both Creativity and Courage are hard at work cooking up some fanciful new ideas and solutions to problems. We’ll stop briefly at the bathroom, I’m sure y’all are familiar… This is the place where you dispose of all your waste products like judgment, cynicism, and negativity. Now on to the Stairs of Discipline.

They may hurt, but you’ll come out stronger in the end! And finally, we arrive at the Balcony of Dreams. This Balcony provides you with a unique outlook on life, allows you to see the bigger picture (which reduces stress, by the way – take note, all you moms out there), renews hope, and allows you to dream freely and without inhibitions. This is also the place where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (also a Southerner) got the idea for his famous speech, which he then named after this balcony. Well, this concludes our quick tour of the House of Kindness!

Please feel free to drop by anytime, you know the door will always be open! Now you might be thinking, ‘Excuse me, but I don’t get how this relates to the topic you were supposed to be speaking about, you know, how can kindness reunite our country, you just faked a rather questionable Southern accent and led us on a tour of a house that doesn’t exist.’ And about the accent part, you are absolutely right, it was 100% questionable, but as for its relevance regarding the topic, here’s how it relates.

Here in America, we are famous for our cultural diversity and personal freedom. They're two aspects that help make America what it is. But without kindness to mediate, this diversity and freedom can cause major conflicts between people who don’t share the same opinions, as we can see happening in the world all around us. Unity, being a unified nation, does not mean that we all become the same. Unity does not mean we all have to agree on everything or link arms and sing ‘Kumbaya’ all day. Unity does mean that we listen to each other with love, respect each other’s opinions, and accept each other’s
differences. These things, which at their cores are compassionate listening and acceptance, also make up the basis of what kindness is. Therefore, if we restore kindness, we restore the very essence of our nation and heal the wounds that are driving it apart.

But revolutions must start somewhere, and this one in particular is very…shall we say…personal. You see, we each have our own spheres of influence, however small, comprised of people around us who are actively influenced by our actions. This can be anyone from friends to family to anyone we meet or interact with. And even though others may be annoying or hard to love, we must remember that each of the people in our spheres have their own spheres, and each of the people in their spheres have their own spheres, and so on – thus, each choice we make creates ripples that expand exponentially and spread throughout society. But just as people suffer if someone lashes out in anger or acts out of jealousy, each act of kindness also holds more power than we can ever imagine. It can be as small as a smile, a kind word, letting someone merge in front of you on the highway. Then there are bigger things like having compassion for a coworker’s situation or forgiving someone and giving them a second chance. As Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of the book Pay It Forward, says, “…It proves that you don't need much to change the entire world for the better. You can start with the most ordinary ingredients. You can start with the world you’ve got.”

But how do we do this? We’ve been told of the power kindness holds and how it would theoretically be able to reunite our country, but how do we implement it into our daily lives and start actively trying to make a change? Well, this is where the Southern accent and house metaphor come in. How do we change the world? Have a front porch of acceptance, an attitude of openness that shows people they are loved, even if you don’t agree with their choices or opinions.

Have a warm fire of compassion – so people can sit next to you in peace while you offer a quietly listening ear, not trying to give advice or fix them, simply listening. Cook up creative new solutions and dream up ways to carry them out. Continually squish your ego so you don’t accidentally hurt anyone around you.
Practice discipline in your life and gently help others to do the same. And always look out on the world from your balcony of dreams, lifting others up and inviting them to imagine with you.

Because this revolution starts with each of us. It starts with our decision to get up each day and serve the people around us, to love the people around us, to be kind to the people around us. Because if we don’t step up, who will? Never has America been so divided, true… but never has there been a greater opportunity for radical kindness.

And in this way, by creating a home in which kindness can thrive, we can reunite our country. Brick by brick, one sphere of influence at a time, we can build temples of love in our hearts and communities that will come together in one immense, beautiful dance, and transform our divided house into one loving, glorious House of Kindness.

Can Kindness reunite America, Part III by Vanessa Garcia