Don't Be Nice - Be Kind
- by Akaya Windwood
I recently facilitated a community meeting organized to address a spate
of violence in a neighborhood here in Oakland, California. Roughly 200
people showed up—young people from the streets, grandmothers, school
teachers, community activists, neighbors, and politicians. The gathering
crossed lines of class, ethnicity, religion, gender, and race. There
were many emotions in the room: grief, fear, hope, hopelessness,
skepticism, sadness, and even some optimism.
As we began the meeting, I asked people to agree to be kind rather than
nice. Truthfully, I was a bit hesitant to ask for this agreement,
thinking that people would interpret it to mean that they couldn’t say
what they needed to say or express “negative” feelings such as anger,
outrage, or distress. I took the risk of asking for the agreement
anyway, and was met with a big “yes” from the group. Everyone was tired
of the old pattern of blaming and shaming, of finding fault with one
another, and we needed a way to say difficult things without feeling
hobbled by politeness.
Niceness is often filled with falseness—it is a way to not tell the
truth, or to obscure it. “Be nice!” is something many of us heard as
children as a way of avoiding upsetting someone. While niceness might be
a strategy that gets us through an immediate situation, it is not
effective in the long run as a way to come together to solve the myriad
difficulties facing our communities, both local and global.
It is crucial that we hold ourselves and each other accountable, and we
can do this with hearts of kindness. This often takes a lot of courage.
Kindness allows us to say the hardest of things while preserving the
dignity of those around us. It allows us to take the big risk of letting
people know what is on our minds in a way that is unclouded and
respectful. It is an action of the heart.
The folks at the meeting were engaged, vibrant, upset, and had a lot to
say, but kindness ran through it all, like a river of balm and
steadiness. I was particularly touched by the father who, having
recently lost a son to police violence, spoke of the need to come
together as one community, to acknowledge each other, remembering our
commonness, our collective humanity. He was angry and so very kind, even
as he held each of us accountable for the overt and subtle ways in which
we all participate in violence.
Grandmothers spoke of feeling afraid in their homes and of needing to
reach out to the young folks. Young people, even those stereotyped as
dangerous, spoke about being afraid to walk the streets. This was a kind
meeting, but it was not nice.
At the end of the evening, a woman drummed and sang as we walked out to
the park where a young man had been shot the week before. We carried
candles, and most folks swayed and hummed along. I was very proud of the
way everyone cared for the whole.
Kindness is one of our strongest tools as we collectively lead
ourselves, our families, and communities through a time of great
violence, both here at home and across the seas. We need to work toward
deeper kindness. Let’s take that risk. And stop being nice.
Akaya Windwood wrote this article as part of A Just
Foreign Policy, the
issue of YES! Magazine. Akaya is president of the Rockwood
Leadership Program in Oakland, California. She is known nationally for
her commitment to social and economic justice, and to building a new and
compelling vision for effectiveness and collaboration in the non-profit
sector. A long-time resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, she loves
the richness of living and working with diversity, and is committed to
joy, laughter, and healthy communities.