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New Year's Resolution: KINDNESS in the face of UNCERTAINTY.

Or, three ways to drift clumsily towards kindness and avoid paralytic handwringer’s disease.

This year, I will give whatever I have, whenever I can. 

I am often paralyzed by the thought that there is so much going wrong in the world - so many injustices and tragedies, large and small, life-threatening and soul-crushing, chewing up people and hope in every imaginable way - and I’m just one small, uneducated, brokeass person, wrapped up in my own daily dramas, whimpering in the face of the beast.

I don’t know which tragedy to face first, or how to face it, so I sit at home and wring my hands, and feel a little guilty but mostly confused. It’s like I’m waiting for somebody to swoop in and tell me what form of kindness has the highest Overall Statistical Goodness Quotient, and until that happens, being kind is probably a waste of time and energy.

I’ve considered quitting the music biz and working for a nonprofit, or trying harder to be a real rockstar so I can get rich and give away my money, or going to school for something important. But honestly, I don’t think any of those things would turn me into an unconflicted superhero of change (and also, I would be miserable). None of us is big enough or rich enough or smart enough to save the world, that’s just the dangblasted human condition.

So this year, I declare that the way to make change is to give whatever I have, whenever I can, and to inspire other people to do the same.

Below are some concrete steps I’ll be taking this year to make change. I invite you to join me.

MONEY: I have more of it than most people on earth, and so do you.

In these past eightish years of full-time musicianhood, I have wriggled my way onto the lower rungs of the middle class, tooth and nail. I don’t make a lot of money, but I make a little more than I need. By that I mean: I am pretty sure I’ll be able to eat, and continue to live in my house, pretty much every month. What’s more: I make that money doing something that I am really, truly happy to do. As far as I’m concerned, that puts me in the 1%, and means that I have a karmic obligation to give away every penny I can part with.

Speaking of what I can part with: studies have shown that money doesn’t get easier to give away when you make more of it. In fact, in America the reverse is true: the poorest people give the most of their income to charity, and the richest people give the least. To me, this means that I have to get in the habit of giving now, even if it feels like a stretch, just in case I do become a real rockstar.

WHAT I’M DOING ABOUT IT THIS YEAR: Setting up a $15/month automatic donation to Kiva, an organization that facilitates small loans (the average loan size is $435) to entrepreneurs in developing countries.

I’ve targeted my donation to female business-owners, because women invest 80% of their income in their families and communities. I’ve also set it up to redistribute any re-paid loans (Kiva loans have a 98.7% repayment rate) to other borrowers, so every dollar I give can be re-used many times.

BRAINPOWER: When I am uninformed about something that feels important, I will get informed.

This past year, I’ve been following the news of racial profiling and police brutality in the US, with alternating feelings of horror and helplessness. I live in a neighborhood that is majority black, in a city that is majority black, policed by a department that is widely considered to be corrupt, disorganized, and openly racist (my local dealings with them so far confirm the rumors). Not to mention, my state has the highest incarceration rate in the entire world (yep - it’s higher than China, Iran, or North Korea). 

Sometimes I feel like it’s “not my issue”, because I’m not black. Other times, that rationale sounds a lot like “I was just following orders”. In other words, I don’t want laziness or confusion to make me complicit in a culture that’s ravaging, ruining, and ending people’s lives. I want to learn how I can be helpful to my fellow citizens in a way that is respectful and informed.

WHAT I’M DOING ABOUT IT THIS YEAR: Embarking on a massive research project about the history of race relations in America, and the mechanisms by which institutionalized racism functions in the present day.

I’m reading these books: A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama’s America, and The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

And going to this workshop: Undoing Racism (at the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond). I’ll be attending the one in New Orleans January 16-18.

WORDS: I know how to use ‘em.

As you’ve probably noticed, I’m a feminist. That means I want more female Presidents and CEOs, and I want girls and women around the world to have the same access to education and resources as boys and men. But also, I think misogyny is creepier and more insidious than those goals imply, and that addressing only the large-scale, identifiable problems will not pull it out at the root. One of my personal causes is self-expression and empowerment for myself and the women around me, as a form of social activism.

In the past few years, I’ve noticed that some of the ways I relate to other women are subtly disempowering. For example: I habitually compliment girls and women on the way they look - in lieu of more thoughtful observations - and I don’t have the same reflex when talking to boys and men. I think this reinforces the cultural assumption that the most important thing a woman has to offer is her body: how she looks, and how she chooses to decorate herself.

WHAT I’M DOING ABOUT IT THIS YEAR: I’m going to stop complimenting young girls on the way they look – especially if they are kids (because that’s crazy! It’s like we say to six year olds, “welcome to being a girl! The only important thing about you is your clothes, and how cute you are.”) When I feel the impulse to do that, I will find a more interesting way to engage.

When I feel the urge to compliment another woman on how she looks, I’ll work to integrate it into a larger understanding of her as a person (ie: “Your hair looks great!” will become “I love your haircut, it is elegant and wacky at the same time, like you!”). Bonus: fight the patriarchy while ALSO learning to give much more interesting compliments.

In summation: this year I’ll be doing to do my best to avoid paralytic handwringer’s disease.  

This includes the above efforts, but it may also include giving change to panhandlers, cooking food for my neighbors, picking up trash, and sending stuffed animals to my friends when they are sad. I reserve the right to give whatever I have, whenever I can, whether or not I can determine its Overall Statistical Goodness Quotient.

There is no “best” way to be kind. Kindness is not a statistical event; it’s a state of being. This year, I’ll be drifting clumsily towards it. Join me?


BUY THESE BOOKS: A Dreadful Deceit, The New Jim Crow


TELL A KID SHE’S SMART AND FUNNY: there’s no link for that one.


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