“We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” (John F. Kennedy)
Perhaps a way to see a way through some of the troubling discourse is to counteract negative words with those that appeal to our better nature. When I worked at the John F. Kennedy Library, one of the things I grew to admire most about President Kennedy was the way he consistently encouraged people to be their best selves rather than giving in to their fears. That is sorely missing now.
Like many people, I am trying to identify constructive ways to participate in the debate, but there are times when I find myself reeling from the divisive and hateful language. Earlier today, reading School Library Journal, I found this poster:
It will be displayed in the school library next week. But it reminds me that I need to balance the angry rhetoric with words that are elevating. I’m going to take 5 minutes every day to read a picture book that puts good words in my head.
Here are ideas for the first ten days, all of them books that emphasize kindness, empathy and the importance of understanding each other:
How to Heal a Broken Wing by Bob Graham
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena
Zen Shorts by Jon Muth
Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey
Teacup by Rebecca Young
The Arrival by Shaun Tan
Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis
A Sick Day for Amos McGee
Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson
The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas
Today, a snow day, is the perfect time to read one of my favorite poems by Naomi Shihab Nye.
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
One last note: the photo at the top was taken by Will Maxwell, an 8th grade student and talented photographer.