Some things happened this week that’s made me think about humanity and how poorly we’re doing by each other:
- I got bullied by a group of tween girls at my children’s school
- I watched an incredible film about migrants desperate to get to a better life in Europe
- My beautiful, astonishing young cousin took her own life
I don’t weigh these things equally, by any means, but I can’t help but see a pattern of disconnect—an obsession with our singular lives—that leaves us indifferent, alone and uncaring. There is so much failing on our parts when it comes to love and compassion. There’s so much we’re not doing when it’s really not that hard: to set a good example for our kids, to donate or volunteer, to check in with a faraway family member.
What ran through my head as a bunch of eleven-year-olds surrounded me, giggling and being decisively mean, was shock, anger and then a desire to put them in their place with my own meanness (which I’d never been able to do as a bullied kid). I am a grown woman! This was not one of my shining moments. But what I thought about later was what kind of parents these girls had. They attend a bilingual private school in Paris so they’re well-off and well-educated, yet they’ve never been taught not to gang up on a person, not to laugh at another’s expense, and certainly not—for their own safety—to harass a stranger.
It upsets me people are raising their children with such little respect for others and ultimately, themselves. Kindness springs from self-love and self-esteem, so how are these girls treated at home that they lack any empathy or sense?
It’s been years we’ve been hearing about the refugees and migrants who are fleeing the horrors of war and poverty for what they hope will be better lives for themselves and their children. It’s been years we’ve tried to ignore the “problem” or make it go somewhere else. We are all implicated in our complacency and in some cases (looking right at you, France and the US), our cruelty. Last week, I saw a documentary my husband has been working on for two years. It’s called Exodus and will be premiering on Canal+ tonight at 8:55 pm. The film follows several migrants as they journey illegally—by boat, train, bus, foot, plane, rollerblades—to what they imagine is a European paradise. I’m reviewing it here because this movie is that important and I hope there’s a way everyone, not just Canal+ subscribers, can watch it.
We are failing here, failing hard, at basic human decency. And simply raising our own kids well isn’t enough anymore. How do we actively participate in lifting up humanity? Because doing NOTHING in the face of this human crisis is equivalent to ignoring the pogroms of WWII. What side of humanity and history do you choose to be on?
I sometimes think the reason people get so focused on the minutiae of their lives is because it hurts to be expansive, to be open to the brokenness of the world. It hurts to love and care. Much easier to fume over the comment fight you got into with a third-party voter. To rail against how slowly your country house renovations are going.
I met my cousin Jennifer via Facebook five years ago. She’s the daughter of my first cousin on my father’s side of the family, which was separated into East Coast Kims (us) and West Coast Kims (them). We never met before because plane travel is expensive, but thanks to social media, we were able to reconnect five years ago—something like 25 or so cousins, including all our children. I’m one of the farthest away here in Paris, but two years ago, I had the chance to visit Seattle and several of the West Coast Kims welcomed me with warm, open arms.
Jen, who has three young children, drove for an entire day with two of them so she could meet me and bring me a homemade cake. And when I say, homemade, I mean pastry-chef level. I called her the punk-rock Martha Stewart but she was so much more than that. An autodidact whose brain traveled light years ahead of the rest of us, Jen threw herself into everything that caught her attention. In the few years I knew her, I saw her compete in a fitness competition, launch a cake business, play flute and piano, start a website, rescue pets and make everyone on Facebook cry-laugh with her wicked humor. Most of all, Jen was a terrific, loving, engaged mom and a hardcore advocate for families with children suffering from disabilities, like her own son. She did all this with a potty-mouthed grace and a strength I can’t imagine nor possess—and with so much pain she kept well-hidden.
I wish when Jen disappeared from Facebook a couple months back, I’d thought to ask why, instead of assuming she was taking a social media break like she sometimes did. I only heard she’d been having problems and had been in and out of the hospital when I received the news that she was gone. I couldn’t help thinking, why? Why am I only hearing this now when it’s too late? I’m busy, but not so busy I don’t have time to write a quick, “Where and how are you?” Maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference to hear from a distant relative you’d met once, but maybe hearing from two dozen would have. One of the last things she said to me was, “I used to be afraid of turning 30, but seeing you in your 40s makes me know I can rock it.” I am heartbroken—for her children, her husband, her sister, her mother, her entire extended family and friends—that she didn’t make it. Because she would have rocked it.
My 4-year-old often asks me, “Are monsters for real?” What runs through my head is, Yes, monsters are real. There are frightening people who are scarier than any Gruffalo or Darth Vader. I always answer, “No, monsters aren’t for real. They don’t exist.” For now, I can live with telling him that lie.
What I’m realizing is truly monstrous is our ability, our readiness, to carry on with our lives as if no one beyond our immediate circle matters. It’s easy to point to others and say, “They should help. They have so much money. If Apple would just pay its taxes, we could solve world hunger.” If you are reading this, with your high-speed internet and the free time to scroll through your smartphone or laptop, you have the means to make a difference in someone’s life. You can reach out and connect:
- With a mom in your FB group who could use an afternoon off but can’t afford a sitter. Why not offer to take her kid on a playdate so she can have a few hours to herself?
- With a friend or family member you haven’t spoken to in awhile. Send an email to let them know you’re thinking about them and to see how they’re doing. If you can manage an actual snail mail card or letter, you—and they—win!
- With a sincere compliment to someone in your neighborhood, whether it’s telling your fruit seller they always have the choicest fruits or noticing the haircut of the cashier at the supermarket. It takes so little to make someone feel good about themselves and unexpected compliments are like a surprise gift.
- With your kids and even their friends. Step in when you see them being mean to others. Teach them compassion, but also be kind and compassionate yourself so they learn by example.
There are so many ways we can all be better humans beings in this world. But the willingness to help, to sacrifice a small bit of our comfort to make someone else’s life a little better, is the legacy we should want to leave our children, everyone’s children.