Why be unkind, ever?
That's what I wondered recently as I eavesdropped on three young pals, maybe 20 years old, bantering comfortably. Their talk was first of the Islanders’ postseason hopes, then drifted to the illogical reality that the Yankees, the most storied franchise in athletic history, hasn’t had a decent catcher since these guys got old enough to notice.
Then one of them said, telling of a confrontation with a woman in a grocery store, "These people that still want us to wear a mask even though we’re vaccinated — man that’s just crazy!" He didn't want to wear the mask and didn't see why he should when there is plenty of vaccine for all who want it, and he's had his.
He thought she was nuts, and so he shouldn't do as she wished. I thought she was (potentially) nuts, but he should.
His friends agreed aggressively with him, and why wouldn’t they? The ringleader’s sense that the most ardent clingers to COVID-19 protocols are fueled more by neuroses than sensible safety was callous, but correct.
So I started an unsolicited debate with them, 'cause who doesn't love that guy.
"OK," I said, bursting their private conversational bubble, "But even if you think this woman is crazy, why do you want her to be terrified?"
There was a moment of contemplation as the alpha thought, "Am I really about to engage with Baldy McSpectacles?" and then said, "But I’m vaccinated. Why should I have to wear a mask?"
"To make her feel better," I said. "Why be unkind, ever?"
Why be unkind to those irrationally scared of disease?
Why be unkind to the server who did not overcook the burned steak, or even to the cook who did. The same displeasure, expressed politely, will bring replacement filet without a beef. Why be unkind to the man trying to merge so gingerly into the exit lane?
Why be unkind to the woman who fears for her Black son and demands changes in policing, even if you disagree? If her fear were irrational, would that make it less painful?
Why be unkind to the mother who fears her police officer son is endangered by the policing reforms #BlackLivesMatter wants, even if you find her wrongheaded?
Why be unkind to and about a woman who came to your school district to promote reading, but had posted thoughts on social media you disagreed with, as happened recently in Smithtown? Why be unkind when a student, out of a sense of social justice, refuses to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, as happened recently in Westhampton Beach?
You disagree? You think it’s wrong?
OK, but why be unkind?
You can disagree with people without being disagreeable. We can say what we mean without being mean.
When we bristle at altering our behavior or attitude in minor ways to ease the path of others, as I far too often do, we are ruled by the perverted ego in our heads shouting, "Do you KNOW who I am?!?!" When we adjust a bit to ease the path of others, we’re ruled by the healthy ego whose anthem is, "How can I help?"
We do not have to agree with people to wish them well, or treat them well.
And while a revolution of kindness wouldn’t solve all our problems, it is a necessary step on the path to solving them.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday's editorial board.