Hal Pepinsky, email@example.com, pepinsky.blogspot.com
August 12, 2010
“Othering” is the opposite of “kindness.” “One’s own kind” is redundant. Look it up, “kind” means tribes, and “kin” means family. I just spent a week with kin in Montreal. Jill and her parents are Polish-Canadian; she holds three citizenships. Meanwhile, on e-mail, I continued inquiries on behalf of a prisoner whose parole has repeatedly been denied.
When I was studying police-recorded crime trends in Sheffield, a lieutenant told me of the advice his sergeant had given when the then rookie had been sent into the field: Always treat any unruly citizen the way you would treat your own father. At the time, this patrol constable had no communication to get help when a fight broke out, when his ass was literally on the line. Now (1983), he told me, patrol constables with wireless communication would roll in in numbers and a brawl would ensue. Oh for the good old days when a police officer’s own safety depended on treating a belligerent as though the belligerent were one’s own father, one’s own kind, a member of one’s own family.
A parole board member in an arcane parole system recently gave me insightful advice on how to get a prisoner friend released. I’m reminded of messages like Gandhi’s that in confrontation with forces of violence, one aspires to celebrate the compromises they make. Putting ourselves in positions is the problem. We separate them from us. It remains the fact that they and we cohabit the planet. We are kind. Making peace, building trust to cool mistrust in our relations, depends on making them into us. In matters of public security, building trust in the face of violence entails kindness.
I have since 1983 learned that there are fathers who ritually torture their children with impunity. The worst personal violence at all class levels I have encountered has happened in private. There are many glaring exceptions to the rule that we treat our own better than “those people” do. In my experience, violence at institutional levels reflects violence in the darkest recesses of our personal lives. Kindness recognizes that privacy and privatization are as vulnerable to systematic violence as is our discourse on “national security.” That Sheffield lieutenant was telling me how he would treat his father in public in the same situation. In public discourse for example, kindness would entail the news media’s publishing the names of Afghani and Iraqi dead as personally and prominently as news of “our” war dead. Kindness entails publicly treating one’s enemies as one would publicly treat a brother or sister. That’s what kindness means to me.
Recently in the case of a friend, two parole board members treated me with the utmost respect. The first I talked with, who had most recently voted for the prisoner’s release, recommended to me that I explore sentence modification on the prisoner’s behalf. That was an act of kindness, both in disclosing a vote for the prisoner and in advising me on a possible legal avenue, as fully as I’m sure he would have done for his own father (or recused himself). This does not make me bosom buddies with the board members; it does establish that in this moment, our interests in forthrightness coincide. I have thanked them and remain grateful for their honesty. Thus informed, I continue to explore my prisoner friend’s options.
“Those” people, parole board members who had voted differently in my friend’s case, treated me (and implicitly my friend) like kin. Roger Fisher calls that Getting to Yes! in international negotiations, moving from “position” to “interest.” Peacemaking is a matter of building bridges across enmity and suspicion.
Correspondents on one list on which I have posed the question as to what inspires kindness have suggested that kindness inspires kindness. I agree.
I think our quest to distinguish right from wrong, let alone good from evil, is a waste of human energy. But when, in the early morning at closing time, I imagine a police constable telling a rowdy crowd outside a pub to go home, I do think of the kindly aunt or uncle in all of us reaching across claims of loyalty.
I see no absolute good or evil. I see no absolute right or wrong. I do see resolution of issues an empathic step at a time. This moves everyone involved from positions to interests, as though in the event, they’ll lower their weapons and cut momentary deals.
I remember shouting as a child: “Sticks and stone may hurt my bones but words will never hurt me!” That’s a lie. Words hurt, as in a denial of my friend’s parole without explanation. In the midst of human carnage, I find parole board members who are super-helpful to me, and by extension I hope, to my prisoner friend. The parole board members were kind to me. I rely on acts like theirs with me that make peace in the face of violence. I’m just after acts of kindness. Love and peace--hal