Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Strategic Acts of Kindness

Last week was “Random Acts of Kindness Week,” a time to encourage people to make life more pleasant for everyone. Organizers at randomactsofkindness.org encouraged actions like leaving positive notes around town and feeding meters for strangers. I would never argue with that notion. The world needs more kindness! But now that the week for random acts is over, I think it’s time to also embrace “strategic acts of kindness.”

Random acts of hatred have risen dramatically in the United States. Our country has seen repeated damage to Jewish cemeteries and bomb threats to Jewish community centers. The highest office of the U.S. has issued unconstitutional travel bans targeting Muslims. People of all kinds of skin tones other than the old Crayola crayon "flesh" color are shouted at to "Go home!" when they've lived in the U.S. their whole lives. Racism, sexism, and xenophobia are becoming increasingly normalized in political discussions and in everyday conversations. 

In the face of such a disturbing reality, we must take powerful actions to protect those who suffer disproportionately in this world because of religion, race, gender, or any number of factors. People of every political stripe are waking up and wanting to have a voice in the direction our country is heading. However, many regular folks don’t have the first idea about how to reach our nation’s decision makers.

That’s where strategic acts of kindness come in. In my former career as an engineer, I found random actions led to random results. Intentional strategy is needed to combat random acts of hatred or – even worse – systematic acts of oppression in our country and around the world.

Bread for the World volunteers handwrite letters to Congress
at church after a Sunday worship service.
What could this sort of organized love look like? Setting aside time each day to call members of Congress to voice your opinion. Holding a meeting with friends to write letters to elected officials. Submitting a letter to the editor. Sitting down with a senator or representative face to face to voice your opinion with respect. In fact, these are the very actions that U.S. representatives and senators consistently report as the most influential ways a constituent can sway their opinion.

If you don’t know how to do these things right now, that’s not a problem. Before I learned how to raise my voice, I was a stay-at-home mom who didn’t even know the names of my senators. I only knew that my community and my world allowed babies in poverty to suffer from poor health and I wanted to help. By getting involved with reputable advocacy organizations like RESULTS, I was able to receive training, support, and inspiration to become a skilled advocate. In time, I learned to effectively advise policy makers, guiding them towards decisions that improve access to education, health, and economic opportunity.

Richard Smiley and I meet with Senator Durbin about
microfinance to help the poorest families of the world.
What could we accomplish together if we could channel outrage and dissent into deliberate actions to change the future in positive ways? The possibilities are endless. Look at the massive problem of global poverty, widely regarded as unsolvable. Years of coordinated volunteer advocacy have pressured the U.S. to partner with other countries on global health, nutrition, and education programs. Since 1990, the number of people living in extreme poverty worldwide has been cut by more than half! With enough engaged citizens creating the political will to stand up for ourselves and people in need, there is no limit to the good we could do.

It is critical that we empower ourselves with the skills needed to speak out to the presidential administration and our members of Congress. Compassionate civic engagement is what our situation demands of us today. Together, we can navigate the combative ugliness of our time by rising above it. It’s time to move beyond the random. We can shape the future by committing to strategic acts of kindness.