The COVID 19 pandemic has highlighted to me, more than anything else, how “the golden rule” has been eroded in a time where we need it the most.
Our public health experts have told us that many of the actions they have urged us to take to stay safe during the pandemic, including wearing masks, social distancing, and eventually being vaccinated, are just as much about protecting others as they are about protecting ourselves. If we all were to do those things, we could successfully limit the spread.
But something in our current culture is out of balance. It might be an overemphasis or misunderstanding of individualism, rudeness, skepticism of science and logic, or perhaps believing in conspiracy theories (or many other trends). These elements and others have eroded our kindness, compassion, and the understanding that we share this earth with others. More and more we live in our own headspace and are not considering the needs of our neighbors and those around us.
We all have work to do in this area, and I will be the first to admit that I need to do this work too.
But something from the last week gave me hope. It showed me that examples of how each of us should behave are still out there, and that while we are lost, we can still find our way back.
That inspiration came from a 13-year old boy named Brayden Harrington from New Hampshire. He inspired me with his courage to speak at the Democratic National Convention last week.
Here is Brayden’s speech:
The story of Vice President Biden meeting Brayden Harrington dates back to February 7th. Recently, I saw the video of that meeting on twitter.
Take a look:
Let’s put aside for just a moment that our country is in the middle of a bitterly divisive election. And let’s put aside the fact that one of the subjects of this post is Vice President Joe Biden who is one of the two candidates running for President. If you are an entrenched skeptic, I ask you to put aside your doubts about the genuineness of the interaction too.
I ask you to do this for just a moment, because what we can learn from these two men should not be at all political.
Brayden is a boy with his whole life in front of him. But, he has a disability, and one that makes his life different than most of ours. His disability, a stutter, is something he shares in common with Vice President Biden. Biden worked hard and overcame his stutter, and this young man wants to do the same and took inspiration from Biden.
Biden didn’t have to spend time with Brayden at all. He could have shook his hand, given him an “atta boy,” at their interaction in New Hampshire, and kept going about his day.
But he didn’t do that.
Instead he spent the time with Brayden. Gave him encouragement, which clearly helped him. All of a sudden an inspirational figure, who was a stranger, became a friend and a supporter for Brayden.
The more I have seen the events of the last 166 days unfold, the more I worry about the world my now 4-month old son and other members of his generation will inherit from us. Will that be a world of compassion or a world of anger and self-centeredness?
The more I read and hear, the more I believe that we are all leaders in answering this pivotal question. In these times, we are all just a cell-phone camera capture away from going viral; what was once reserved for celebrities, politicians, and athletes now allows basically anybody to become overnight viral sensations.
We need more moments of compassion like this one to go viral and spend less time on content that may just embarrass somebody else. We need more moments of connection, of support, and of encouragement. In this way, we are all leaders and are all being called to lead during a dark time in our country and the world. Leaders live by example. How can you be more compassionate, more kind, and more understanding to strangers? How can we disagree with civility? What world are we leaving for our children? How could we do better?
KEY TAKEAWAY: We are all leaders in curing the epidemic of anger, cruelty, and selfishness. We can learn from the story of Brayden Harrington and Vice President Biden that we are all leaders in making the world a more compassionate place.
This post was inspired by Brayden Harrington and the book The War for Kindness by Jamil Zaki.
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