If there is one action that we could have embodied more in 2018, it is kindness.
One of the more popular movies of the year was the documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” telling the story of the television show that starred Fred Rogers. In so many ways, the TV show was unconventional, even for his time. It was not glitzy or high-tech by any stretch of the imagination. The stage sets were as basic as they come, yet there was a beautifully compelling relational compassion that shone through in each episode. From time to time, the show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” focused on complex issues, ranging from divorce to dancing to disability. As I watched the documentary, I felt a warm kindness about it.
If there is one action that we could have embodied more in 2018, it is kindness. There is something about the power of kindness that softens our hearts and even breaks through divisiveness. I recently experienced something of what that feels like.
My wife and I, along with our small family, have been living in the Seattle area for a few years now, but this year I decided to attend our annual neighborhood meeting for the first time. In many ways, much of what was discussed was typical of these sorts of meetings: Concerns about safety in the neighborhood, the upkeep of community playgrounds and whether the homeowner fees are being meaningfully utilized. Throughout the meeting there were various impassioned questions raised about why certain things had not been fixed in the neighborhood. You could feel tension in the room for most of the meeting.
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But something cut through the tension just before the meeting ended.
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A fellow neighbor mentioned one neighborhood Christmas tradition in which we were invited to take part. He explained about certain stuffed toy elves that, if we so desired, could accompany a gift that we would give to a neighbor of our choosing. The idea was to buy a gift for another neighbor in our community and to place it alongside the elf on their porch with a note saying to pass along this goodwill to others. What was the point of all this? In a word, kindness. As I listened to how this neighborhood gift-giving worked, I could feel my own neighborhood concerns and complaints subside and a generosity begin to grow. “This is about entering into the Christmas spirit,” said one neighbor.
As I think about it, I am convinced that my neighborhood’s Christmas gift-giving tradition captures the heart of Christmas. It is this same spirit that I saw in the Fred Rogers documentary. Rogers and his show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” had an uncanny ability of embodying and teaching kindness and understanding even in the midst of painful situations and confusing issues. In many ways, he exhibited so much of who we want to be, both as people and as a society. Thinking about his show caused me to wonder whether I sometimes miss what the greater story of life is about. I’ve begun to wonder whether I have missed the bigger story behind Christmas.
Surprisingly, the historical background of the Christmas story orbits around the kindness of God — a savior who comes to us not because we were good, but simply out of his own goodness. It’s his kindness that leads us to real change. It is this kindness that I saw in Fred Rogers and I experienced at my neighborhood gathering. I am convinced that this is indeed the greater story behind Christmas. Generally speaking, one side of culture tends to warn us against getting too religious about the holidays. Another side says that the whole thing has become too commercialized. But what if it is simply about getting back to this God-like kindness? Believer or not, this is something we ought at least to wish for.