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Creative Nonfiction Funny Fiction

Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.

~ Henry James

This is extraordinary! Such a surprise! I have just found out I have an inheritance. It’s from both my parents, even though one outlived the other by thirty four years. It’s inexplicable but true. The notification is from both of them and has only recently reached me. It’s not even clear who drew up the document, where, or when. Still, here I sit, trying to make sense of things.

As I read through the letter, very formal and official-looking, so surely it must be real - informing me of what I’ve been left, it seems this is more a matter of legacy than an inheritance. They are very different entities, actually. We think of inheritances as something like material or financial wealth. Legacies, however, are more spiritual, social, or something like that. They rarely entail money, which has nothing spiritual about it.

So I guess I misspoke: There is no inheritance. Instead, it seems I have a legacy to carry on, and I can’t spend it all foolishly or gamble it away. Those are the requirements. This legacy doesn’t mean much. It’s not anything interesting and is probably way out of style, but it has created some issues for me, very serious issues that are making me lose sleep. That’s why I’ve come to you for advice. All suggestions are welcome. I want to do what is right, because even if I didn’t inherit a red cent from my mother and father, they did go to a lot of trouble to pass on a legacy.

They probably had no idea it was going to be such a hassle. They were good folk and meant well. They were good to me too, pretty much. We should always respect our elders, so that’s my intention here. Please work with me on this.

My legacy is plain and simple: Show kindness, be kind, to people, animals, vegetation, things like that. The problem I have is how to put this in practice, do what they call pay it forward (that expression drives me crazy). Maybe I need to do more research in order to proceed. It’s also possible that I need to give up and hire a consultant. I need guidance here. All I can think of right now is to start and figure out the definition of kindness, then find some good examples, and then decide if it’s useful or not. Apparently my progenitors did, but that was another time. People are very different now. They are less human. 

(Come on, we all know that’s true.)

There are at least two circumstances I can think of when kindness is useful. The first is to provide consolation or support, or to share something with somebody else. It can perhaps prevent suicide or substance abuse. It creates pleasant memories. That’s too touchy-feely for me, but some will agree: being kind can support, heal, or deflect negative situations.

The second circumstance is when kindness is used as a weapon of self-defense. You know: somebody comes gunning for you (not literally), and you throw kindness at them before they can take aim, or hold it up like a shield that stops them cold. (Those sorts of people don’t know what to do in the face of kindness.) A weapon that doesn’t cost a penny. A weapon the military industrial complex doesn’t have in its arsenal.

Kind behavior can be problematic, though. It’s not just practiced by angels or angelic humans, and that’s why it’s tough for me to understand how to manage this thing I’ve been handed. People can be killed by kindness just as they can be saved. Oh, double-edged sword.

First of all, what we call kindness is not infallible, just as many medical treatments and procedures aren’t infallible. They can all go terribly wrong or do absolutely nothing. Second, a lot of kind people are, for all intents and purposes, fools. By this I mean that want their good intentions to work so badly that they won’t expect to fail and thus have no back-up plan if their offering of kindness is rejected. 

They limp away, quietly. They just don’t notice when the recipient of their kindness is not improving and needs a more appropriate sort of intervention. They have complete faith that they can help, ease the pain, cheer the person in need. Being kind - they don’t realize - means being able to wish away, to erase, reality. Sometimes kind can mean oblivious. I don’t like to think about that. It leaves the kind person in a very vulnerable place and I prefer not to go there.

I have this albatross now, and I have to deal with it. Surely you understand.

One thing I need to consider while waiting for your generous feedback and the consultant’s report, is whether kindness is a skill-based capacity or one acquired through knowledge, formal study, something like that. Is it perhaps an art that has diminished in its practice over generations? Is in the process of being forgotten? 

Would it be possible to teach kindness or is it innate, DNA-related? In search of an answer to that last question about whether the ability to be kind can be learned, I ran into this:

There is a website called Inspire Kindness and I do want them to get credit for the next bits of information. The group belongs to a larger collection of Southwestern Companies. Don’t ask me what that means. The point is that IK has an article on its page called Kindness 101. 

The article says we can teach kindness three ways (and here I am paraphrasing IK, not stealing the organization’s ideas). First, by being kind to ourselves. Second, we must practice, practice, practice. Third, by saying thank you. One appreciates the good intention, but this is a legacy we’re trying to manage here, and it seems we’re still being touchy-feely about it. There’s a lot riding on this for me, as you’ll soon find out. I respect and thank you for your instruction, IK, but I need more guidance. It will be nice if your project for teaching children to be kind is successful. Good luck getting financial support.

Another item I’m going to just throw out there, given that teaching kindness seems to be an option, is whether it can also be mass-produced and thus generate a lot of capital. That’s a significant consideration for a lot of people. I mean, think if kindness were a money-maker, just like global trade and other activities create lots of profits. Commercialization of an item can have an impact.

Along with the previous question of profitability or at least sustainability comes the possible formation of a team, a management group, even a political party, say, the PKP, the People’s Kindness Party. Something like that. Would citizens rally around that as a cause? Not sure post-pandemic minds can stretch much in any direction, but it might be worth a try.

I bring up the political party thing because, to be honest, I am already attracting a bit of attention and have been speaking at venues here and there. Some people have been urging me to run for office, even, after hearing me express a few of my opinions. I have been doing that in an effort to carry on this kindness legacy I never asked for but was given anyway. 

Perhaps you would like to hear about a few of my ideas and would like to chime in or polish them a bit. (I do so hate the word tweak.) Where an explanation seemed relevant, it has been provided. Otherwise, the bills, ordinances, treaties, international exchanges and other things I am proposing are fairly self-explanatory.

  1. Ban all video games immediately. Also ban all films based on aggressive actions of one person or population against another. Show the characters talking about books they’ve read or good music. Have them hug or shake hands, offer a ride, bake a cake. No yelling and swearing allowed, at least on TV or in movies. No fistfights.
  2. Require, for graduation from high school, that students write a thirty page essay on the five kindest persons they’ve known. 
  3. If students can’t think of five, then they can write about three persons.
  4. Otherwise, just name two kind people other than their parents or grandparents.
  5. Name a commission to develop and carry out a study of whether kindness is gender-related and also if it’s associated in any way with those other silos we like to put people in, such as age, sexual preference, religion, left- or right-handedness, non-native speakers of our language, vertical challenges, etc.
  6. Administer a ‘certifiably kind’ passport to those who earn it. (Use of said passport yet to be determined.)
  7. Award discounts to kind people (see number 6). Discounts could apply to all modes of travel, from ski lifts to helicopters and subways. They could also be used in local eateries or for art supplies.
  8. Require all educational institutions, K-12 and higher, to offer courses on how to be kind. This could include any of the other adjectives that are somewhat synonymous, including; benevolent, caring, compassionate, concerned, courteous, friendly, helpful, sympathetic, tender, thoughtful, understanding, and - finally - unselfish.
  9. Require all political parties to reference kindness in their party line or use it in a logo. A few possibilities come to mind. Kindness Keeps Amerika Kontent (I may have gotten carried away here). Kindness is the Spice of Life. Kindness Cures All Evil. Kindness Means Money. (This is a lie, but people will like the idea of getting paid to be nice. It’s all about marketing.)
  10. Fund, using the National Science Foundation, a program of inoculations of kindness, free of charge, with boosters if needed. The shots should be mandatory and ready to be administered within a year after the award is given.
  11. Make kindness a requirement for inhabiting this planet. The Kind Way or the Highway. Galactic. (This needs work, because it might require people to take exams, like eye exams for a driver’s license. Or an obstacle course.)
  12. Require every U.S. citizen to major in one of the Arts or Humanities. A double major would be allowed, but at least one degree would have to be in Arts or Humanities.
  13. Instead of thinking about bombs bursting in air and ramparts of war, people would be encouraged, or required, to recite poetry or fiction, or dramatic text, on solemn and important occasions. A suitable substitute would need to be found for the twenty-one gun salute. (I’ve heard that salute and it went right through my heart. Valor is not to be disrespected, but bullets could be switched out for something gentler. Ask the folks who recall Kent State.)

That ought to be more than sufficient for you to support me if I do develop political aspirations. However, that assumes you accept kindness as a good thing. That’s what I initially thought as well. But then things began to niggle away at the back of my mind and I had to admit there can be drawbacks to it. Like Sylvia Plath tells us in her poem, “Kindness:”

Kindness glides about my house.

Dame Kindness, she is so nice!

…..

Sugar can cure everything, so Kindness says.

Sugar is a necessary fluid,

Its crystals a little poultice.

O kindness, kindness

Sweetly picking up pieces!

……

And here you come, with a cup of tea

Wreathed in steam.

The blood jet is poetry,

There is no stopping it.

You hand me two children, two roses.

The Empty Kind is nothing at all, Plath tells me. 

So who deserves my, your, our kindness? I am so in need of your support here, your assistance. Please consider dropping me a line. I hope you can still reach me, because - and once again, I’m trying to be honest, transparent - I’ve been noticed. My speeches and proposals for government action to further the legacy - my (parents’) legacy - of kindness have gotten the attention of the FBI. I’ve seen an agent or two around. The Pentagon may also be working with the FBI. Do I need to worry about the CIA as well? I don’t really know what those groups do, and these are just rumors. I am not being aggressive or critical. That would not be nice.

However, it is logical to be a bit paranoid, right? There are people who are concerned about the possible success of my campaign, if I do end up kicking one off next year. The reason is, as previously noted, people are listening to me more than mainstream media and its death counts from bombs, suicides, car accidents, nuclear disasters, and capsized sailboats. These people have vested interests and don’t want their apple carts upset. 

Today’s apple carts often make a lot of money! I should clarify right now that I forgot to list for you number 14 on my previous list of political proposals: 

Ban all apple carts. 

Yes, that must have freaked them out. They want to bring me in for questioning because they’re suspicious of what I’m trying to do. I heard that they’re focused on my brainwashing ability. They’re uneasy because little old me has been able to persuade people, bring them over to my way of thinking.

Even though it’s hard to know if I’m doing the right thing. Maybe I’ve gotten things all wrong. I am so sorry. Thank yo so much for your patience.

Either they want to stop me, and do it pronto, or they want to get me to tell them how come I’m so good at it. That will be when I really take a good look at this legacy thing and stare right through the big bad monsters to locate the faces of the ones who cared enough to give the very best. Hallmark-ish and all, that meant something. You used to give Hallmark cards that people kept in their hearts forever, and you used to give the best of yourself as if it were a Hallmark card.

It takes time to be kind, you know. Nowadays, time no longer exists. A lot of people with apple carts use force instead. Loud voices, loud guns.

It’s getting late and it’s time to end here. I still don’t know what all of you think and the consultant’s report still hasn’t arrived, so I think I’ll settle into the couch with Emily and follow legislation proposal number 13 and read some poetry. Neither of my parents ever read anything by her, but they could have written this poem:

If I can stop one heart from breaking, 

I shall not live in vain; 

If I can ease one life the aching, 

Or cool one pain, 

Or help one fainting robin 

Unto his nest again, 

I shall not live in vain.

September 18, 2021 02:04

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