I woke up this morning with a thought echoing my head. It’s gone now. I let it go understanding that chasing it isn’t really likely to help get it back, and the sensation that I’ve forgotten something important is no true indicator of the value of the thought that slipped away. I make coffee, and wander off and forget it. I take up my unfinished to do list from yesterday, and set it down somewhere… and wander off without reviewing it. It’s not that it is important, it’s just that it was my intention to sit down with the list, and my coffee, and consider the day ahead. It’s of no real consequence; I shrug it off as not yet being awake and move on with the morning.

There is snow on the ground left from yesterday. This morning there is more snow in the forecast. I feel cozy and warm here at home, content to stay in and enjoy the day from the warm side of the windows. Later I’ll build a fire in the fireplace, perhaps put my feet up and read a book. I savor the moment of contentment, while also making room for the recollection of past hard times that would have colored such a day very differently. Hardship changes our view of the world. Hardship is a different experience to be having – and a lot of people are having it.

I wonder briefly why are we not kinder to those facing hardships, or people struggling, or people whose circumstances or injuries wreck their quality of life? I say “we” when I think about this, not because I am myself cruel or inconsiderate of unfortunate others as a practice or by intention, but because I’m just as likely, I think, to be cluelessly insensitive, wrapped in my own current contentment in life, or whatever privilege I am fortunate enough to have. I say “we” because when I look at “all of us” – and include things we excuse as “Schadenfreude“, we all tend to look pretty terrible as a human population. You may be inclined to excuse this; the catharsis and relief of laughter… or… something… right? Well, I’m betting that generally speaking, the person being laughed at would probably prefer to have some help, instead, and hey, maybe not to be humiliated in the face of injury, pain, or embarrassment.  Just saying. We laugh at the misery of others, and make excuses for that instead of helping, and it’s a common enough thing that we’ve given it a name to make it okay with ourselves. We can do better, as beings. We could choose to be compassionate. We could choose to be kind.

I don’t know why this is on my mind this morning. Perhaps because I heard that my young niece had been laughed at when she fell, tangled up with her service dog. How was that funny? People are incredibly cruel. Fancy monkeys, and no better than that, so very often. Me, too. I have my own moments of failure to live up to what I could become as a human being. I’m not a fan of laughing at people who have fallen, or making fun of people; mockery is something I find extraordinarily unpleasant, and see it as an act of hostility, as a personal attack. My more likely failure that leads me to cruelty is insensitivity that is a byproduct of having my own experience, and forgetting in some moment that the other person’s experience, being similarly their own, is not what I imagine it to be. Assumptions don’t function well as facts.

Our assumptions about others are highly likely to result in misunderstandings that can lead us to be cruel, or to mistreat people. We tend to make more assumptions, and check them with less care, about people who are dear to us. That’s something to think about. How often have I tripped up and treated my traveling partner poorly because I made an assumption about his experience, his character, his thinking, or his understanding of the world, that was entirely incorrect? It’s easy to “fix” this one; don’t make assumptions. Ask questions.

Even in those “passing stranger” moments, rather than bust out laughing when someone falls, (which assumes a lot of things, one of which is that any comedic potential in that moment has more value than the human being having the moment themselves) maybe ask if they are okay. Yes, and even if they are laughing – because people often laugh in the face of personal embarrassment, to save face, to ease the sting, to make light of a hard moment. That’s not an invitation to join them in laughter; it’s an invitation to help, to determine if they are okay, and to ease their insecurity in that moment. We’d do well to stop being such dicks to each other. The future of our world may depend on it.

This morning, I’m safe at home. Somewhere out there, someone is walking to a destination, very carefully, on icy sidewalks. If you see them fall, maybe help them up, and ask them the one question that really matters just then, “Are you okay?”

Today is a good day to care. Today is a good day to take just a step toward being a better human being than I was yesterday. Today is a good day to do some small thing to improve someone’s quality of life, by being kind. Can kindness change the world? I don’t know; the world hasn’t tried it.