Opinion

This Christmas Day, let’s spread gentleness in an ever-more-aggressive world

December 25, 2022 3:33 am
A Christmas tree with red and green ornaments.

This Christmas season, writes Clay Wirestone, we would all be well-served by treating one another with understanding and gentleness. (Getty Images)

Some 20 years ago, I was talking to my friend Nathan about God.

As one does.

I told him that while it was difficult for me to imagine a literal lord and savior, like the grey-bearded one painted by Michelangelo, I liked believing in something. Some kind of being, some sort of force, some sort of divinity that embraces all existence.

I was looking, I told him, for a gentler way of understanding the world.

This Christmas, that’s what we could all use for this holiday and the year ahead. We could all use a gentler, more sympathetic way of understanding. We could stand to offer one another — our histories and experiences, our obstacles and opportunities — a kindly acceptance.

So much of our lives, public and private, have become defined by aggression. That forceful approach might not even be negative, as billions of overly cheery Instagram posts demonstrate. But it can still wear on us, especially if we feel fine but not quite that HAPPY EVERY SINGLE MINUTE. The volume need not always blare at 11.

Few these days even see gentleness as a positive. It’s along the lines of the outmoded virtues, such as prudence and humility. They sound good to talk about, or insert into a Christmas column, but who wants to bother with them in real life? You might expect demonstrations from elderly ladies or characters in ancient holiday Christmas specials. Not from many others.

Politics brings us to an entirely different universe.

Last week, I wrote about my columns eliciting pointed questions. I even answered a few, in my own pointed way. The piece didn’t cover every nuance, however, and it made me wonder if we might take a mellower approach to ideological conversations.

We must speak out and speak up for what we believe in, but nothing good comes from casting one another as enemies or the personification of evil.

That way madness lies.

We should be able to separate public stances from those who utter them. Saying an idea is bad or wrong or even stupid shouldn’t imply that I feel that way about the person who holds it. I haven’t always done that perfectly. Some folks’ repeated espousal of damaging policy earns them special skepticism.

But not most people. They deserve the gentleness that I speak of, a calmer and more peaceful approach.

Few who read me in this space would know it, but I grew up in the church. While I had issues with Christianity over the years, certain sects especially, I’ve never doubted the kindness and goodness of so many I attended services with throughout my first 20 years. Those solid, small-town folks took religion seriously, but not overly literally. They wanted to do good and be good and contribute to the wider community.

I may no longer identify with that faith tradition (although I’m partial to Quakers), but it taught me so much.

It taught me that seeking gentless in life and public policy shouldn’t be embarrassing. It taught me that virtue and morality and kindness may not be achievable all the time, but they’re certainly worth a shot.

Thank you for reading this year, and for spending time with Kansas Reflector. Thank you for your messages, your donations and for simply reading our articles.

As I’ve written my correspondents recently, hearing from readers is a gift all on its own.

I’m still not sure about God. I like to think that someone is out there this Christmas morning, looking over us all. Or perhaps it encompasses us all, our entire history and everything that remains in front of us. I like to think that whatever it is, it embodies the best of us, the gentleness and goodness that courses through everyone.

Merry Christmas, friends. And a happy new year.

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Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone has written columns and edited reporting for newsrooms in Kansas, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania. He has also fact checked politicians, researched for Larry the Cable Guy, and appeared in PolitiFact, Mental Floss, cnn.com and a host of other publications. Clay spent 2017 to 2021 at the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children as communications director. Beyond the written word, he has drawn cartoons, hosted podcasts, designed graphics and moderated debates. Clay graduated from the University of Kansas and lives in Lawrence with his husband and son.

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