The Revolution Of Tenderness
We breathe evil, anger and hatred these days, there is no cave (or farm) deep enough and remote enough to escape it. The challenge of being human is to seek salvation through compassion and empathy, or be pulled into the whirlwind of eternal division and anger. That would be the death of me and my work, it is a place I will not go.
But Lord, it is lonely and frightening sometimes. I do weary of the harsh and unrelentingly angry rhetoric that seems to fill the air with sound.
My health care office moved recently, and the move was chaotic and poorly planned. Computers didn't work, there weren't enough chairs, there weren't enough phones. People waited hours to get through, or couldn't get through and on the front lines were the working people, mostly hard-working women bearing the brunt of the patient's anger.
In our corporate world, the masters of the world are rarely in the front lines to confront the rage of discontented customers or the helpless poor and powerless (have you ever seen an airline CEO walk onto a plane and console the angry and frightened customers trying to squeeze into their uncomfortable seats and stuff their bats into overhead racks while attendants shout at them to hurry up or the plane will be late?)
No wonder the flight attendants lose it and yell at people. Put yourself in their shoes for a minute. I confront this anger and frustration ever day, and I am gaining on it.
It took me four days to make an appointment to see my nurse-practitioner for a routine check-up, and to do it, I had to drive to the medical office and get in line and eventually sit down with a harried receptionist, fending off distressed people and ringing phones and windows with no chairs or computers.
I was about to complain, and then paused.
She knew there was a mess, she had been getting yelled at for several days, if not weeks. The corporate bureaucrats who plan moves like this don't show up to face ordinary people any quicker than airline CEO's. I said instead, "oh, I see you are having a rough time. I'm sorry, I know you are doing your best."
It's the working people who end up being cannon fodder, the front lines between the powerful and the angry.
When I said this to the receptionist, she burst into tears.
She had working for days trying to do her job, make appointments, do her paperwork, appease the doctors and the bosses. "We don't have enough phone lines, phones, chairs, or working computers," she said, "we are all trying so hard and we are out here alone and everyone is yelling at us. They can't get hold of anyone else."
It had been a horrible experience, she said, especially for people used to doing good.
This morning, I sent her some flowers anonymously with a note that said "Keep Smiling, You Are Appreciated." I wanted her to know that somebody understood, I'm sure many people do. I wanted to be tender.
I was deeply grateful that I had not joined the list of complainers. She didn't need to be yelled at, she knew better than I did what was happening.
Yesterday, my computer malfunctioned and my lifeline to the world was shut down. I was shunted from one tech adviser to another as the hours piled up and my work was undone. The situation was tailor-made for patience, and I went into myself and found some, I thanked the frantic tech support person for helping me, said goodbye, and wished them well. I got the computer working later, and with the help of someone else.
Every day, I am called upon to be merciful and tender, to embrace empathy, the benchmark of moral humanity. Sometimes I fail, and sometimes I succeed. Anger and resentment are embedded in all of us.
The voices of mercy and compassion are sweet to me, they are like the voices in a lifeboat come to rescue us and guide us to safety. That is the voice of Pope Francis, who seems to grasp what a leader should be, a man or woman who speaks to the best in us, not the worst.
This morning, I was up early browsing the Web and learned that Francis, my favorite leader in the world, had given a surprise Ted Talk in which he called out to every single human to begin a personal crusade for hope, inclusion and empathy, to join a "revolution in tenderness."
To be merciful to others, to the only home we shall ever know, the earth, now broken and bleeding.
I was surprised and delighted to come across it. It was how I have been trying to live, it was the revolution I want to join and march for.
I am not a Catholic and am not at ease with much of the Catholic dogma, but Francis reminds me that powerful people don't have to use hate and fear to succeed, and that I can respect and powerful people, even though they have different ideas than I have. Pope Francis is always gentle and merciful in his work and guidance, he is always counseling against greed and arrogance and excessive punishment.
If you can't feel mercy for the people trapped in jail, he said, or the many discarded souls in the world, then who can you feel mercy towards?
Revolution begins with "us," he says, in the life of the poor and discarded, in the life of the immigrant and the refugee, in the prisoner and the homeless, in the aging person in a nursing home, there is the opportunity for every individual to use their influence and power to care for others.
The Tenderness Revolution is about caring for others, not just yourself. That, said the Pope, is what solidarity means.
I read the entire 17-minute TED talk to Maria while she was just waking up and in bed. She cried, he was speaking to her heart, she said she could hardly believe those words were coming out of a Pope, but she loved him for speaking them.
We don't need to wait for politicians to lead us, he said, we have to lead them. This is a revolution for me. When I hug a resident of the Mansion.
When I reach out to welcome a battered refugee, when I offer my hand to an immigrant who does not know how to get a driver's license, or a refugee child needing a soccer shirt, or help getting them to an amusement park in the summer, like the other kids get to see, then I am joining this revolution of tenderness.
When I help raise money for good on my blog. It is profoundly liberating to be freed from judgment and argument and rage and envy. Those things have no place in the Tenderness Revolution. I am freed from the left and the right, from Presidents and members of Congress, from clueless pundits and angry commentators. They have nothing to offer me.
They have little to do with me, or how I feel about the world. They inhabit their own toxic universe.
And isn't this a new and radical idea for our country now, to just practice what we believe rather than stew or bludgeon or bully and despise people who feel differently? A long-time blog reader sent me a Facebook message raging against the media for criticizing President Trump. "You're a former journalist," she wrote, "do they have the right to criticize our president every day?"
I answered her. Yes, I said. Of course, how sad to even hear the question. The media had a right to harshly criticize President Obama, some harshly criticized Hillary Clinton, some harshly criticize Donald Trump. That is our democracy, that's show it works, that's what a happens in a democracy.
In our culture, everyone is the victim, everyone is filled with grievance. What is your idea of freedom, I asked this woman? Is is really all right only to criticize people we dislike, but not ever people we like? Have we forgotten what being free actually means?
She had no answer, as I knew she wouldn't. Tenderness is not just about whispering and deferring, it is also about tolerating and accepting.
Empathy is a faith Maria and I have been committed to practicing for some time, this is human connection in its purest and most effective form.
This idea intensified for me in November, when Donald Trump became President and rode a wave of fear and anger and hatred into public office. I chose to be tender with people who voted for him, who disagreed with me, who saw things in this man I did not see. Many were – are still – my friends. It is easy to judge, hard not to.
I resolved not to hate the President or his followers, or be drawn into their resentment of and frustration with people like me. I do not ever wish to be imprisoned in a bubble, where I only talk to people who think the way I do and believe what I believe. That is an Orwellian nightmare, not a free and open culture.
I didn't have to argue, I realized. I didn't have to hate the people who differed from me, I didn't have to join the left or the right, I didn't have to rage on Facebook or Twitter and bemoan the state of the world. I can just believe what I believe, I don't need to persuade anyone else.
I have to listen and learn and live my life as I wish to live it. And go out and march once in awhile for things I believe in. This summer, I'm going to put a beautiful painting on every wall in the Mansion, help some undocumented immigrants live safely in America, see that the RISSE soccer stars get the best uniforms there are, and a great trip to the Great Escape Adventure Park, and also that a young man named Sackler Moo gets the chance to practice his art and that a loving teacher named Amjad (Ali) Abdullah Mohammed gets what he needs to help his kids.
it used to be that my ambition for the summer was to stay out of the heat and humidity. This is better.
Francis spoke on behalf of empathy. He said when he meets a poor or sick person, he always asks himself "why them and not me?" To me, this is the quality most missing in so many of our so-called leaders, the ability to stand in the shoes of another human being and stand for something other than money.
It is no secret that the Pope's comments come at a time when so many politicians all over the world are promoting isolation and fear of the other. Francis knows how to speak powerfully but without rancor: "Thank God," he said in his unexpected Ted Talk, "no system can nullify our desire to open up to the good, to compassion and to our capacity to react against evil, all of which stem from deep within our hearts."
This question, he said, drives his belief that it is the responsibility of the fortunate to take care of those who are less so.
As empathy, sympathy and compassion vanish from our civic life, government policies and civic discourse, I love the idea of joining a revolution of tenderness, perhaps I already have. I believe the Pope is correct. One deed at a time, one day at a time, one person at a time.
People with big hearts and tender souls will rise up one day and form the most powerful army on the earth, they will spark a revolution of tenderness. I happen to think this is already underway, I see it every day on this blog. The Army Of Good is making their own revolution and no one has said a cruel or hurtful work to anyone, being tender is not an argument but a choice, a way of life.
It is very hard sometimes, it feels very good sometimes. It is a good time to be alive.
Note. My good friend Ali (Amjad Abdullah Mohammed), the loving teacher to many refugee children and their soccer coach, was hospitalized after a serious automobile near Albany last week, he has been released from the hospital and is recovering at home and is expected to return to work in a week or so.
His car was demolished, he was in the hospital for five days. He is doing well, but I thought some of you might care to write him a letter or message as he recovers. The address is Amjad (Ali) Abdullah Mohammed c/oRISSE, 715 Morris Street, Albany, N.Y., 12208. He is important to the world, his heart and soul are rich in goodness.