As a life-long member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I have grown up singing hymns and hearing stories about Jesus from the Bible and Book of Mormon. As a part of church meetings and worship each Sunday, young children gather together for classes under an organization called Primary, where they can learn basic religious principles and participate in activities with other children. One of the ways these children are taught about the essence of our religion is by learning and singing short songs that have been written specifically to teach simple principles.
Over the past few weeks, I have been concerned about the level of fear, distrust, and disgust that have surged on social media throughout the country. I have seen friends and neighbors post scathing critiques of large groups of people they don't know, news articles that consistently lump individuals into collective masses, and a general tendency for people to complain that they have been consigned to an inevitable future that they don't want a part of. Although it is easy to split the country into categories like "Republicans," and "Democrats," "millennials" and "seniors," or "middle class" and "elite," categorizing those around us into groups such as these seems to perpetuate a sense of division and reduce empathy for the varied challenges and concerns that come with simply living.
Thinking about this situation, I have remembered the words of a song I learned in Primary years ago:
"I want to be kind to ev'ryone,
For that is right, you see.
So I say to myself, "Remember this:
Kindness begins with me."
Kindness begins with me. At this time of year, people generally seem to think more about gratitude and service. We celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, and a number of other holidays that turn our focus towards those around us. Communities organize food drives and collect toys to share with children in need. But this year, I think that engaging in service and spreading kindness is especially important.
A few years ago, I attended a leadership conference sponsored by Interfaith Youth Core, a non-profit devoted to improving interfaith dialogue and using religion to build bridges in the community. Their model for successful interfaith cooperation is built on three ideas: voice, engage, and act. Specifically, they advocate interfaith service projects as a way for individuals with different religious backgrounds to express their identity in a safe forum, engage in meaningful interaction with others who have different perspectives, and understand how their worldviews motivate them to act together for the common good of society.
I think that just as service can bring together people with different religious backgrounds, finding ways to serve in our communities can help us see those around us in real terms--without divisive labels. Serving others has very little cost, beyond a fraction of our time, and yet has the ability to deeply improve our relationships with those around us. I truly believe that if we, individually, can commit to be kinder to those around us each day, we will find a sense of clarity and motivation to truly improve our communities at the national level.
President Thomas S. Monson, the current leader of the LDS church, has counseled, "Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved." I believe that following this counsel is the only way, in the end, to truly solve the problems of this world. At their core, societal problems such as racial or religious tension and income or gender inequality can only be overcome as we learn to serve, respect, and love those around us as ourselves. Despite the overwhelming scale of some of these challenges, I know that waiting idly for them to be solved by politicians or activists is simply not going to result in a lasting solution. I know that kindness begins with me, and you, and my family, and your family. Individually I can act to build a society with more kindness in it today than was there yesterday.
With this in mind, I invite those who read this post to join with me and other members of the LDS church in participating in a Worldwide Day of Service on December 1st. Using JustServe.org and other local resources, find a cause that you can contribute to and spend some time serving this holiday season!
"I have wept in the night
For the shortness of sight
That to somebody's need made me blind;
But I never have yet
Felt a tinge of regret
For being a little too kind."
(Poem's author unknown, quoted by Thomas S. Monson in "Love--the Essence of the Gospel")