It really is cool (and successful) to be kind

A NY Times piece on Ellen DeGeneres, “Ellen, ‘Idol’ and the Power of Niceness,” offers some significant hope in a time of bullies, backsliding and bullshit.

The central point is that in a world as catty and hokey as “American Idol,” even if Ellen’s shtick is as calculated as everyone else’s, she chooses to go with kind and this seems to win her cross-over fans (not across the straight-gay line, which it does, but across the kids-grown-ups line which is even more of a feat).

Hey, if a fifty-something fully-out lesbian can be liked, trusted and respected by virtually everyone, and represent wild success born of niceness, I think there is hope for America.  I don’t watch much TV, and I’ve never actually seen the Ellen Show, and have long since lost all interest in Idol, but I’m so far off the grid of what most people are interested in that I’m just thrilled to read in the Times that she’s nice and it’s going over well.

I’ve often said that it’s cool to be kind and I saw this story as another chance to make this point.  People who feel good about themselves are generally kind.  Cruelty is a sign of low self-esteem and unhappiness.  Mean people do not “win,” at what really matters, they do not achieve good feelings that last.

We all have a Shadow side, and denying that or trying to be sugary sweet is both annoying and a collective problem (since someone somewhere is going to have to hold your Shadow if you won’t, but then maybe that’s what terrorists are for?  And if there’s any truth to that, then being conscious of our own Shadows, our greed, cruelty, destructiveness and the like, might be a more effective way to fight the so-called “war on terror”).  The key with the Shadow is being able to own our dark sides without projecting them or acting them out on others (that’s what teenagers are for); if we hope to represent as parents, we need to feel the pain, doubt, anger, outrage… and then find non-destructive ways to express them.  This is the essence of truly kind.

Ellen is able to do this, perhaps because we, as a group, project a lot of goodwill and kindness onto her.  I’m less interested in Ellen, than in the fact that the zeitgeist like Ellen.  Just as we must own our own inner car-crash of a celebrity crashing and burning if we truly hope the relentlessly banal headlines and media attention to turn away from that insipid pap, Ellen offers a chance to re-integrate our nice and successful Selves.

I know I have generally feared success because I associate it with the American archetype of envy, shame and excoriation seeming to rain down on everyone who rises up.  Perhaps these sorts of fears in you, even unconsciously held, have contributed to your own fears to sing your song, write your stories, start your business or follow your bliss.  We seem to inflate our heroes and then tear them down like the townsfolk with their torches swarming after Frankenstein.

Maybe it will be liberating for you to just put yourself out there and be nice about it, whether the crowd likes it or just your mom, or not even your mom.  I know my brave fellow bloggers do that, but what about you “lurkers,” are you being true to your voice?  If not, what are you afraid of?  Maybe the vast and often quiet crowd is much nicer than you thought, since the mean kids sometimes are first to throw the rotten cabbage and heckle us out of our voice and our place in the world.

The Parent is, in a sense, the ideal archetype of the hero that our culture needs—not that any one of us need to be the archetypal parent, the Mary Poppins as magical caregiver, but it serves us to realize that the group’s ideal needs to shift from being famous for little more than being famous, to being appreciated for being nice, caring and for contributing to the well-being of the group.  It’s the group, and not the individual, which needs to become the heroic “parent,” that which cares about the world.  It’s kindness that needs to be cultivated and lauded in ourselves and each other.

So, let’s dedicate today to being authentically nice (and gracefully aware of how not nice each of us are, and how that doesn’t make us unlovable or exclude us from the group) so that our group may become more balanced, able to express the Shadow without evoking destruction in others and compassionately connected so that the net effect lovingly serves all of us and our collective children.

Namaste, Bruce

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2 Responses to “It really is cool (and successful) to be kind”

  1. chris Says:

    You often talk about fearing success, as if you aren’t.
    It seems to me that you are successful in Every area that matters:
    Family, Career, Friendship.
    The only thing you are not successful at is being famous, which we agree you wouldn’t be too crazy about.
    So here’s to enjoying success in all its guises.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Very kind, thank you. Here, here—here’s to enjoying our success together in striving to be kind, balanced and authentic in whatever we choose to make matter to ourselves and those we care about—but particularly our relationships with each other.

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