Around the end of the year, I usually reflect on the past. During this holiday season, since both of my parents passed away, I must confess, I find this time lonely and depressing. First, my father, a minister, died from cancer, then my mother, also from Pakistan, was taken away by a pulmonary embolism last December.
These experiences make this holiday season difficult for me. The fact that my friend’s father got infected by Covd-19 recently makes me realize again how vulnerable we all are.
2020, probably one of the worst years in modern times
While the sour and often poisonous grapes of 2020 may soon die on the Trumpian vine, many Americans will remember how this year seemed unlike any other in recent memory. The Coronavirus pandemic changed the way we interact with each other and our environment, but also put many out of work, and created divisiveness on a subject as simple as wearing a mask in public places.
The disease has now infected over 18 million people in the U.S. and over 77 million worldwide. And the rapidly increasing number of Covid-dead are making it even more difficult for those of us who know that no magic wand exists.
With the loss of my parents and the never-ending pain that traveled along, I experienced the Covid-changes in 2020 which brought a deep sense of isolation for many of us: I could no longer go to a concert, see a play, or grab a few drinks with my friends at our favorite bar. The loss of routine brought other painful changes, which hit me hard when the college I attended went entirely online.
Worse, the loss of my job caused me to struggle with my depression even more painfully. My social isolation led me to drink more alcohol than I had since my dad died—and I felt stuck.
However, during the troubling times that followed, something unexpected happened.
A light in the dark of depression
I discovered The Global Kindness Revolution: How Together We Can Heal Violence, Racism, and Meanness, the book by Judith Trustone, the award-winning author, activist, and filmmaker who spent decades dedicating her life to helping others—here interviewed by Jack Canfield, author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series, which sold over 70 million copies.
I met Judith, who now resides and writes from her home in Swarthmore, PA, at the Victorian Holiday two years ago—a salon-type Christmas party hosted by Henrik Eger, editor of Drama Around The Globe, an online theater and arts website for which I intern as an editorial assistant.
Even in this festive crowd of theater people, writers, editors, and other interesting guests, Judith stood out with her creative elegance, her exquisite attire, including her boots—even her hair with its blend of blond and blue. Almost 80, she radiated a youthful glow and greeted me with a warm smile. I opened a bottle of sparkling apple cider and poured her a glass as we talked.
Listening to her, I learned about her experience in U.S. prisons as a teacher of writing, who became an activist, whose book Celling America’s Soul: Torture and Transformation in Our Prisons and Why We Should Care is read not only among prisoners and social reformers, but also by readers aware of the injustices in the U.S. Strange as it may sound, Trustone’s calm energy and her motherly nature made her a modern god-mother, an activist sage, and a philosopher of our own time, all rolled into one.
We talked about poetry as well as her activism and her latest book, The Global Kindness Revolution. A few days later, I received a copy and almost immediately felt like Robinson Crusoe lost in a sea of depression who had now found an island of safety and strengths.
The Global Kindness Revolution
Rereading The Global Kindness Revolution during the Covid-winter of 2020 felt like experiencing a moment of quiet in the middle of a chaotic storm. It allowed me to see something that I had not considered, an event that impacted my life by discovering new ways of thinking—giving me a chance to reconsider and even change my own perspective.
In the Global Kindness Revolution, Trustone proposes that we can heal violence, racism, misogyny, and hatred with the power of kindness—a sentiment as timely as ever. Perhaps based on the ancient power of meditation, Trustone boldly asks her readers: “Would you donate five slow breaths every day at noon and think just one kind thought to make the world a kinder place?” She calls this new movement Kindness at Noon (KAN). I found this a small but important step to help me keep up with the demands of life in an often dark and gloomy world.
Giving a voice to the voiceless
Over the summer of 2020, the civil unrest in the U.S. caused by police brutality against people of color and other marginalized groups became another issue that reached a fever pitch—bringing the conversation of discrimination and systemic racism to the forefront of the American psyche.
I witnessed the impact of this movement when I attended two Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests with people of all ethnic backgrounds and ages in Philadelphia in June of 2020, both peaceful and pro-mask. To my dismay, at one of these BLM demonstrations, I witnessed police in armored vehicles who were harassing peaceful protesters and spraying us with tear gas.
During those moments of clashes with the police in Philadelphia, I suddenly remembered Trustone’s experiences working with prisoners. The Global Kindness Revolution started as a movement from her experience with prisoners and wardens in walled-in places that often fostered antagonism on all sides.
To change the situation, Trustone handed out blank “thank you” notes to inmates and gave them “homework”: whenever they saw an act of kindness occurring in the prison, they would write a note and give that person such a thank you card. Soon, she founded Sagewriters, a group of inmates and other supporters to give a “voice to the voiceless.”
Many inmates charged with non-violent crimes and the wrongfully accused often spend many years of frustration and humiliation behind bars. The justice system failed them, but through Sagewriters they now have a chance to tell their stories and present their own evidence to the public.
Trustone’s The Global Kindness Revolution also presents stories of forgiveness between inmates and their families or the ones they wronged. One such story is that of Howard, who was nearly beaten to death with a hatchet, but forgave his attacker and formed a friendship with him. Stories like these make the book unique and made my darker moments seem lighter by comparison to the lives of others.
Keeping the “Mean Mind” in check
Going through the day-to-day struggles of life, kindness can become difficult to keep at the forefront of our minds. In The Global Kindness Revolution, Trustone writes about the “Mean Mind”—the unevolved “monkey” part of our brain, responsible for fear, anger, and other negative emotions. She describes how we ought to be kind to those around us as well as ourselves—taking time to “unplug” from technology and practice mindfulness, becoming aware and letting go of our “mean mind” emotions that we carry with us every day.
Trustone offers exercises for readers to practice to get our “mean minds” in check. For example, taking “five clearing breaths,” and journaling “kindness goals.” I have tried mediation before but found myself easily distracted. However, with her recommended exercises, meditating didn’t feel like an obligation. Trustone writes, “We all dangle from the web of life,” so by sending out positivity and understanding, I found it affects the world in ways I did not expect initially. For example, I learned to become more patient not only with my siblings, my friends, and myself, but also when researching and writing new articles.
Judith Trustone: A personal story
Throughout her book, Trustone uses her own experiences to illustrate how she reached the insights she developed when working on the Global Kindness Revolution. She discusses her life as a young woman and how she discovered racism at age 11 when she watched the movie Showboat, directed by George Sidney, which depicted a character losing a starring role because she was part black. “The seed of my lifelong outrage against injustice was planted in my soon-to-be teenage mind in the darkened movie theater,” she wrote.
Many years ago, as a young Civil Rights activist, Trustone hosted Martin Luther King, Jr., James Farmer, Jr., an American civil rights activist and leader in the Civil Rights Movement, and King’s entourage at her house in Media, PA. An advanced group of security guards from MLK’s team inspected Trustone’s house and looked behind every curtain to make sure that it would be safe for King and his team to visit. Trustone wrote a fascinating article about the experience, “My Dinner with Martin Luther King, Jr. and James Farmer, Jr.,” which showed that MLK was not only a thinker and serious speaker, but also a man with great wit and a fine sense of humor when he and Farmer satirized those in power who tried to block the Civil Rights Movement.
Discussing her personal and spiritual journey and how the Global Kindness Revolution started, Trustone does not ignore the harsher parts of reality. Rather, she shows what we can do in spite of the often devastating impact of powerful nationalistic media outlets in the U.S. She actually acknowledges her white privilege and in so doing, I felt that I could trust her as a true ally to marginalized groups and minorities.
New Year’s resolutions
When the Covid-19 pandemic began last March and continued to worsen, I felt uninspired, didn’t write much, and published nothing. Yet, while I still carry the loss of my parents with me, going into the New Year, I now want to use my experiences of loss and depression to relate to others in similar situations. Although I see myself as a classical introvert, I am determined to use some of the insights I gained from The Global Kindness Revolution to reach others.
Who knows, I might even develop the courage to share more of my personal experiences with others through my writing and, in so doing, rid myself of the self-induced fears that were tying me down like Gulliver.
In letting go of my fear of opening up and reaching out, listening and sharing with others, I hope to become more aware and experience the holidays in quiet ways, planning for a new year where I continue with the best of life in Asia, America, and the world of the Global Kindness Revolution.
Thank you, Judith Trustone.