“Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” ~ Mark Twain
Human instinct separates people into in-groups and out-groups. We categorize by the degree we perceive others as a friend or foe. In modern times, politics clearly model this type of behavior. Political parties (and the fractures within them) have become a form of cultural unity. Yet, this unity arises from a resistance to what people fear rather than what they support. Politics has devolved into a zero-sum game in which people are told if the party they identify with loses, then their belief system—which is the basis of identity—will wither away.
Modern politics abuses the human bias towards loss aversion. We are motivated more urgently by fear of a present loss than missing out on an uncertain potential future gain—even if the estimation of the threat is irrational. With this, kindness evaporates from the political scene. Fear breeds anger which then breeds hate and we end up living in a dark and cynical republic—sound like Yoda we do.
The more difficult behavior to enact is to listen while withholding judgment.
This puts the individual in an extremely vulnerable position. What they hear may just threaten their belief system, which in turn threatens the core of their identity. Instead of whipping into fight-or-flight mode, a kind person must seek to understand the other first. If anything, that other is already in fight-or-flight mode and the kind listener must strategically navigate the jabs thrown and denials offered.
Moreover, the kind person does what is almost inhuman: forgives attacks on themselves. It takes psychological willpower to restrain our impulse to hastily retort or retreat. In this sense, willpower/self-control/self-regulation (whichever metaphor you prefer) acts as a muscle which is hardened through trained habits.
Legends, heroes, religious characters, and lasting historical figures model this strength of character—this willing beyond what is believed possible. Out of self-sacrifice, demonstrating profound kindness or mercy in the face of mockery, demise, and death they attain an immortal place in human memory. While governments and boundaries have faded away, their words and actions have built invisible kingdoms within the human heart/soul/psyche/mind (whatever terminology suits you).
“Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair, but manifestations of strength and resolution.” ~ Gibran
As St. Louis moves forward with its various efforts of regional reflection, each individual—whether a municipal mayor, business leader, or regular resident—will confront a reality that threatens her or his beliefs. Instead of engaging in an easy automatic response, we as individuals can demonstrate social courage by listening actively and speaking honestly.
The legacy of the current generations living in St. Louis will not be measured by shifting borders and fluid governance structures but by their kindness, courage, and intelligence in confronting their divisions. Lands conquered, treasures raised, or monuments lifted all slowly erode into ruins. The lasting strength of a society endures through its ideals.
When outsiders and history ask "show me"—our actions will respond: we believe honesty, kindness, and courage drive growth and vitality. By bringing people together through fearless reconciliation, strategic collaboration, and passionate innovation, St. Louis opened the gateway to a stronger future for all.
That is, if we have the strength.