Congratulations to all of you who didn’t nod in agreement and move on from the title. The irony of you choosing to read a piece with this title on a blog called “Cultivate Kindness” isn’t lost on me; it is, in fact, very much intended.
You are the one I wanted to reach. The person, much like me before I lost Rees, who is tired and worn out by a seemingly unraveling world but whose spark of hope is still alight. The others? They aren’t precisely lost causes (well, some are), but they aren’t in the right mindset to read this. At least not yet.
Speaking of mindsets – It’s been exactly four years, seven months, and 17 days since I was last in the right mindset to share anything on this blog. It would be a colossal understatement to point out that a lot has changed in this world since that post. But as time proves, again and again, the more things change the more they stay the same.
One of those things that never changes is the power of a kind act. Kindness remains a universal truth that people inherently understand and recognize. This is particularly poignant in a world where we can watch an event unfold in real-time and, based on a tribal allegiance, disagree about what we see with our own eyes. It seems that not even truth and understanding can escape the ever-swelling hyper-partisan tide. The same cannot be said for kindness.
Kindness has no tribe. This is an absolute truth that I didn’t fully understand until the night I had to say goodbye to my son. I will never forget standing in front of the throngs of people unified in their attempt to bring us comfort, which, just days earlier, were trading barbs and insults with each other on social media regarding the upcoming Presidential election. In a moment where the crushing weight of Rees’ passing should have blocked out any other thought, I couldn’t help but be captivated by the irony of their newfound solidarity.
If I had to choose an inflection point that represented the beginning of our movement, it would be right there in that moment: The realization that compassion and kindness supersede petty differences and tribal allegiance. It was a moment of clarity that pierced right through my living nightmare and touched something deep within me. I implored them to use this moment to reflect on how the power of compassion and kindness brought them all together and to not wait for something bad to happen to lift someone else in the future. Even though we lost our little Rees Specht, I hoped they could use this moment to find a little respect for others’ lives… to Rees Specht Life.
Now imagine if some of those very same people decided not to show up because they disagreed with the views of some of the people there (myself included)? Would their decision shock you? I bet nine years ago, your answer would be a resounding “yes,” – but today’s answer may be very different. It seems that in the past nine years since Rees’ passing, the exceptions we are willing to place on our compassion and kindness are burgeoning at a slow and steady pace. The change isn’t noticeable daily, but it’s apparent how large it is when viewed through the lens of time.
It starts slowly – with little things that we gradually accept, giving way to accepting more significant transgressions. It doesn’t take long until simple name-calling becomes physical violence, all justified under the same banner of “they think differently than I do”. Before we know it we find ourselves in a world burning all around us, saying, “how did we get here?”. Like the Frog who finds himself in a pot of slowly heating boiling water, we don’t realize what has happened until it’s too late. If you try to place the Frog directly into the boiling water, he will hop right out. This is the cruelty, and the danger, of the little things that add up.
We are terrible at parsing incremental change. So how then does the Frog in the slowly heating water stop from getting boiled? It takes perspective. Abrupt change provides a clear delineation we can identify and react to immediately; (e.g.) Frog meet HOT water – BOOM he jumps right out. For that Frog in the slowly heating water, there is no such moment. Sure, he notices the water is getting warmer but doesn’t draw a connection to the danger until it’s too late… unless he has some perspective.
So, where does that perspective come from? There are only two sources: 1) Experience 2) A teacher/guide/outside observer. That’s it. 2. No more, no less. Either the Frog has been through this before (and survived) or someone outside the pot is there to explain it to him. Unfortunately, neither of these options is perfect. Option 1 is risky and option 2 only works if you trust your guide… (The water is going to boil??? Fake news! – Dead Frog ☠️).
How then do we avoid the Frog’s fate? Option 1 is off the table. We are living in option one right now, and, well, it’s kind of obvious, it isn’t working (it’s getting hot in here…). Just as I observed the night of Rees’ memorial, I wish to do so again: We can stop this if we focus on the little things that make a big difference. The key is that those little things need to be unconditional and non-transactional. An act performed with the expectation of reward is a transaction, not kindness. You are part of the problem if you can justify indifference and intolerance because you disagree with someone.
Kindness is the solution. 100% pure, unconditional kindness. It’s ok to disagree with someone – just don’t let that stop you from being kind to them. There is no such thing as conditional kindness. If you are unhappy with the way things are going you must be an agent of change. It’s up to you to help the others still wallowing in this tepid pot about to boil over. Collectively, each of us can make this world a better place, one Rees’ piece at a time…
There is no such thing as kindness with an asterisk.
RICH SPECHT is an author, public speaker who advocates for kindness. Rich authored the award-winning children’s book A Little Rees Specht Cultivates Kindness. He and his wife, Samantha, are the co-founders of the ReesSpecht Life Foundation which they formed in the wake of the loss of their only son, Richard Edwin-Ehmer (Rees) Specht at 22 months old. The acts of kindness that the family received after Rees’ passing inspired them to “pay forward” that kindness; which the foundation does in the form of scholarships for High School seniors who demonstrate a commitment to their community, compassion, and respect, as well as the distribution of more than seven hundred fifty thousand ReesSpecht Life “pay it forward” cards.
An animated television series featuring the themes and characters from Rich’s books is in the works. The book and television adaptations of A Little Rees Specht Cultivates Kindness represents the culmination of Rich’s goal to help make this world a little better, one Rees’ piece at a time. Rich currently resides in Sound Beach, New York with his wife, Samantha, daughters, Abigail, Lorilei and Melina as well as his angel above, Rees.
Looking for some inspiration? Book Rich to speak at your school, workplace, conference: www.cultivatekindness.org