Human(kind): How Reclaiming Human Worth and Embracing Radical Kindness Will Bring Us Back Together
:From a talented storyteller, peacemaker, and advocate comes a powerful invitation to bridge the canyons of difference and disunity that exist all around us. In Human(Kind) , Ashlee Eiland shares her compelling story of being a black woman...
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:From a talented storyteller, peacemaker, and advocate comes a powerful invitation to bridge the canyons of difference and disunity that exist all around us.
In Human(Kind), Ashlee Eiland shares her compelling story of being a black woman living on two sides of the fence: as the token black girl in majority-white spaces, and as the "whitewashed" black girl in majority black spaces. As she discovers her own unique worth through these recollections, Ashlee learns that extending radical kindness toward every person--regardless of their social status, political views, or religious beliefs--gives us hope and rekindles our common humanity.
With grace and humility, Ashlee invites you to chart your own formative journey and recognize your inherent value, cultivating empathy so you can see the image of God in your most difficult neighbors.
A Rescue Mission
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Kindness is such a mushy word. When I think of kindness, I automatically picture people who smile a lot, particularly in situations that would easily frustrate the rest of us. When they’re cut off in traffic, they smile. They may evenwave to wish the offender well. Kind people are unfailingly polite and considerate, usually thinking of others first. When someone gives them harsh or critical feedback, they receive it graciously and without defensiveness. Nothing seems to shake their composure or positive outlook. They simply chuckle in the face of mild adversity and go on about their day. If we’re honest, most of us find these folks refreshing, yet mildly annoying. If kindness were personified, it’d be one of thosepeople: smiley, gentle, potentially passive. They might be respected but aren’t necessarily invited to lend their perspective on wildly important matters.
My perception of kindness in its purest form—maybe yours too—is that it’s really reserved only for the likes of perfect preschool teachers or professional do-gooders like Mother Teresa and Mister Rogers. We often think kindness has no place in the arena of hard-hitting debate and truth-telling activism. If one chooses to bring kindness along, that person is often considered naive, unsophisticated, or—worse yet—weak. It is not a legitimate contender in the ring of human disagreement.
My first job was as an associate at a Blockbuster video store. I was a part of the esteemed cohort of film connoisseurs responsible for transferring all our VHS tapes to DVDs. But before we made the full transition, the familiar saying remained plastered on our exit door for all patrons to see: Be Kind. Rewind.
We often treat kindness as an afterthought or a suggestion we shouldn’t take seriously.
Be kind. Wash your hands.
Be kind. Recycle.
Be kind. Return your cart.
All nice things to do, surely. But when it comes to the conversations and discussions that matter—the ones where in we defend our values and ideals, our platforms and politics—we expect kindness to take a back seat.
However, I’ve become convinced that kindness (and its cousins compassion and empathy) must be rescued. If we let it, kindness will be a part of what saves us from the divisions and disharmony that have become cemented in how we coexist, from the sting when we talk about what grieves us and moves us to action and from the pride of our postures online and across tables as we advocate for that which we believe in so strongly.
Kindness will be able to undo the damage we’ve done because it’s the secret weapon for detecting the intrinsic worth found in every person.
But in order to see the power of kindness on display, we’ll always have to sacrifice something, whether it is time or impatience or the dominance of our own opinions. Transformational kindness toward other humans will also require something that frenzied fingers flying across a keyboard never have: bravery. It takes a brave person to come out of hiding, to come off a Twitter feed or Instagram live video and sit in the flesh with another human being who was crafted with intentionality and great love, injected with the image of Dei, the image of God himself.
It takes bravery to look someone in the eye, choosing to believe that person is worthy and choosing to be changed by intentionally engaging both kindly and respectfully with one whom the Creator called “very good” (Genesis 1:31, niv).
In Ephesians 4 the apostle Paul charged the church at Ephesus to be kind to one another. This was after he called them to maintain unity and right before he urged them to live lives based in love, as Christ did by sacrificing his very life for them. He called them to “get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice” (verse 31,niv). All these negative traits seem to thrive in our current culture.
In its original Greek the word chrēstos, which we translate kind, means “useful toward others,” “good-natured,” and “gentle.” Jesus used the same word in the gospel of Luke when he spoke these words to his disciples and the multitude: “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked” (Luke 6:35,nlt, emphasis added).
Loving an enemy? Super hard. I’d argue that it’s harder than debating that same enemy on social media or gossiping about him in the break room. But Jesus commanded it because he did it first. He even told us how kind his Father is to people he calls ungrateful and wicked! I’m pretty sure we all have a list of folks we’d consider wicked or who seem at least loosely acquainted with evildoing. Jesus and Paul called us to be actively useful toward them, to be good-natured and gentle. Therefore, I’d argue that extending kindness is a lot harder—and a lot more powerful—than we give it credit for.
Kindness does more than facilitate easy pleasantries or cordiality. It melts swords in the arena. It bargains with clenched fists, inviting those fists to become open hands in the ring. Kindness helps us see beyond mere words to our hearts and shows us, truly, how suffering has shaped us and taught us to treat one another. It gives us hope and catalyzes healing between parents and children, neighbors, and nations.
Kindness may be a mushy word, but it’s the dark horse of our humanity. It’s not loud or demanding, but given enough time, it wins.
* * *
If we’re going to find our way back to one another—to be bound together once again—we must start with relearning how to be kind to ourselves. By examining our own stories, looking at both our wounds and our most admirable qualities, we can discover when and where we were taught to love or defend or hide. We can find clues to our wholeness and the gaping holes in need of love and appreciation and belonging.
Each of us has a story like this—a story that taught us something about humankindness.
As we explore what has formed us, we can give kindness another go. We can look at the people and places that trigger us. We can absorb the blows to our pride. Maybe we’ll even choose to consider a different perspective because kindness has taught us how to be patient with and gracious to the people and stories all around us.
This is my story—a story of a black woman who grew up in the South and who discovered some wholeness and some holes along the way. As I looked back over my life, there were moments I remembered so vividly. Upon further reflection, they were vivid because they mattered. They marked me in both beautiful and painful ways. But as I sat with these moments and memories, I realized they mattered because they taught me how to be kind to my own worthy self. Recalling them helped me acknowledge the good gifts I’ve been given, the gifts I now hope to give to others, and enabled me to see the painful and hard moments as opportunities to be more fully human, to remind myself to receive grace where there’s been grievance. In seeing my story and learning how to be kind to myself, I’m reminded that we all have stories. We all have good gifts and hard grievances. But the sum of both equips us to engage others, even those who are difficult to love, with the kindness we find in Scripture, transforming us into something better and more unified.
Laced throughout the book are invitations for you to revisit the stories of your own life, to understand more fully how you have been formed along the way. Saying yes to these invitations will require openness, courage, and a lot of kindness. But if we are bold and brave, kindness will do its work of elevating our stories and rekindling our common love and humanity. Kindness will bind us together, helping us reclaim our worth once again.