In the visual thesaurus there is a one word jump between being polite and being kind. According to this reference these two words are not synonyms, but they are synonymous. And yet, in real-world function they are worlds apart. The distinction between these two words is the distance between someone who supports Donald Trump’s presidential campaign (who can’t understand why others don’t), and someone who loathes his campaign (and can’t understand why others don’t).
Being polite is a social construct, a societal facade based on time, manner, and place. It is the southern euphemism “bless his heart,” a way to insult someone while seeming to be… well… polite. It is maintaining a professional visage towards a coworker you would rather never interact with. It is the correct fork, the nicely tied tie, using the word “miffed” to talk about a time you were really “pissed off.”
When I was in college the idea of political correctness was just coming into vogue. This was a time when folks were trying to replace some of the micro-aggressive ways we referred to each other. Political correctness was derided by comedians and politicians as an extreme form of politeness, a mask underneath which we were still angry separate supremacists. Political correctness was simply not, as we have heard more than one Trump surrogate laud, “telling it like it is.”
Kindness is the act of seeing the burdens another is carrying and doing something to lighten them. For everything about politeness that is faux and skin deep, kindness is to the bone. It requires peripheral awareness, and empathy, commitment and action and self-sacrifice, even in its smallest incarnations.
In the 90s when my friends and I entered the workforce almost every boss was male and it was still common to refer to the women in the office as “toots” or “dear” or “honey” or “darling” or “sweetie”. There was nothing I could do about unequal pay, or sexual harassment, or bosses expecting female coworkers to “wear something pretty” to the staff meeting. But I could say something about “dear” and “honey” and “toots”. Was I being polite? Or was that an act of kindness? When I pulled him aside and he responds with, “You know being nice to them is not going to get them to like you or fuck you.” Was he being impolite or unkind?
I can do a little more now to shape the workplace in which both I, and those I know supervise, exist. I can make sure we are paying an even wage for work, not paying more for a certain type of person. I can create an environment where we consider the people around us in our decisions. And I can choose, and encourage others to choose to be kind; deeply, meaningfully, genuinely.
I can’t do much to stop the unkindness in our larger culture. I can’t tell police officers that their job is to successfully apprehend suspects, no matter their age or size or skin color, so they can go to trial, rather than killing them in the streets. I can’t make that State of Alabama see the burden it places on people when they say some consenting adult relationships are more important than others. I can’t express how damaging it is to young minds when a large swath of the country declares a President illegitimate because of the color of his skin.
But, in every moment, we all have the choice to be kind. In small ways and big we can stop, wherever we are, and look around us. We can try to see in each other the burdens we are carrying, the scars, and the triggers, and the damages that have been done. We can offer to carry or share those burdens, just for a few steps, just for a little while.
It’s not that the Trump candidacy is impolite. Fuck, I love impolite. I think we are all too caught up in our corporate dress and buzz-words. It is that this campaign is unkind. It makes people fear for their bodies. It states that there are some people in America more deserving of protection and rights and creator-endowed liberties than others. It argues that in our society people have their places, and there they should stay. It adds to our scars and our burdens, rather than lightening them.
For those who see this as simple impoliteness, and who cheer him, I say this. He is not saying what he believes. He is saying what you cannot say, what you wish you could still say, in the workplace, in the grocery store, in social circles. He is saying what you believe. And it is mean. And it is hurtful. And it is unkind.