Kindness, an art form we can all create

A few weeks ago my family got sick. Several of us had runny noses, sore throats and fevers. Given the times, we wondered exactly what we caught. Was this COVID-19 or something else?

We went to the clinic to be tested. There we saw a nurse and a doctor. They administered a nasal swab, looked us over, and eventually determined that we had not contracted COVID, but rather other kinds of infections.

The visit seemed typical of a medical examination. We experienced friendly small talk, awkward moments while professionals poke and prod, followed by expert advice.

But something was different about this appointment. As we left the exam room the nurse said, “Thank you for being polite.”

I’ve probably been to the doctor two dozen times in my life, many more if you count all the visits with kids. I’ve never been thanked for being polite. At least, not since I was a little kid who behaved for my shots.

The exchange reminded me of several conversations with medical professionals, including nurses, doctors, assistants, and dental hygienists, that I’ve had this past year. It’s a horror show out there. Some people are angry, suspicious, presumptuous, and incredulous. A COVID diagnosis or even just a suggested test is often met with scorn and outrage. Mask rules, visitation rules, and the like — all products of the pandemic — meet derision, even as case numbers and hospitalizations get worse.

I do not presume to have all the answers about COVID-19. It’s clear that we all have much to learn about how to handle global pandemics, including how to build trust within a deeply skeptical and politically divided population.

But I do know that our medical community is working harder than ever to save lives even as people treat them like trash. There is no excuse, no good, and no honor in this behavior.

The same could be said of how front line workers are treated. Retail and food service jobs always reveal the jerks who walk among us, but family and friends tell me it’s getting worse. I’ve seen the behavior myself. Teachers, too, find it hard to do the basics of their job without second-guessing and contempt.

I realize we’re all under a lot of pressure, but this kind of behavior has far-reaching consequences. It’s a sickness in which the most endangered victims are actually those who practice rude and derisive conduct. This kind of bile poisons a soul. A community drenched in such poison will attract no good in the long run.

We recently lost the talented comedian, Louie Anderson, to cancer. Anderson was a funny guy, one of the first famous people I ever saw where I knew he had to be from Minnesota just by looking at him. His career had many ups and downs, but was on an upswing near the end as he won an Emmy for his performance in the FX show “Baskets.” He was widely regarded as a genuinely kind individual.

In the time after his passing, several videos of Anderson circulated, most of them clips from his comedy. But another clip showed an interview he did with AOL about his role on “Baskets.”

He described how, when they were filming an episode in Paris in 2015, they shot beautiful scenes just a few blocks from where terrorists planned coordinated attacks on the city. The attacks took place the next day after the crew had left.

“Here we are on one hand making art and on the other hand destroying humanity. In this proximity,” said Anderson, holding up a pair of crossed fingers. “It made me think that we all need to be making art with each other. The only way that can happen is if we twirl — if we allow everybody to twirl — to do their thing, without judgment.”

Anderson, who spoke often of his struggles with obesity, had just expressed that large people wanted the opportunity to twirl in playful circles as much as small people do; they just fear the judgement.

“My mother was a passive aggressive person from the midwest, but she welcomed everyone into our home, so I found out about inclusion really early on. I just think we have to be full of inclusion. And this year in politics is about exclusion, but what we really are looking for is inclusion. If we don’t include everyone, and it is not easy, we can’t ever survive any of this. This is a wonderful time for us and the scariest time ever.”

Anderson was speaking of the 2016 election, an event that already seems quaint by the standards of today’s grim world of dueling realities and mutual contempt. But his words are no less true. Anderson was a writer and performer, so he created his share of art. But “making art with other people,” I think, was better displayed within Anderson’s other distinguishing quality: kindness.

Every day is a new day to be decent to someone; to make their jobs and lives a little easier. Why not try?

After a few days my family recovered from our bout with the flu and RSV. In a normal year we’d call it a bad cold. We stayed home to keep it from spreading around work and school. Our convalescence included watching movies and a few extra naps. No big deal.

There’s a way out of most problems, and it almost always starts with kindness and patience.

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Feb. 6, 2022 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.



  1. Well said. It seems everybody’s working harder and being less appreciated. Our medical workers are at the top of that list. As I read your column it occurred to me that I have been thanked a few times in the last year for being patient and understanding. What was once the norm has become increasingly rare. It is not your servers fault they are the only one who is still working. Nor is it the doctors fault you have COVID. Everyone needs to be more patient, understanding.and kind.

  2. The lesion here is fear and grief. Fear and grief make people behave irrationally. Denial of obvious facts, anger at the bearers of bad news or of information that disagrees with the way we view the world. Fear makes people vote for politicians promising fantasies of return to the past and vengeance on perceived enemies, makes people buy and carry guns, makes people hate groups outside their own and refuse to believe that the ideas and opinions they and their friends and acquaintances hold aren’t universally true and to believe that anyone who disagrees is lying.

    Some of that fear and grief is valid. We are seeing a huge economic turnover in which large numbers of blue collar jobs from factories to mines to trucking are disappearing or about to disappear, and where people who don’t have skills and training that allow them to hold higher tech jobs are being pushed into the low-paying service economy. There is racial hatred in the US, and many white people not only are possessed by it themselves but constantly overestimate the hatred by minority groups — perhaps due to how they would feel and act themselves if they had to live like that. COVID-19 is a real-life horror story, and denial and anger are part of the way people cope with that sort of problem.

    Elizabeth Kubler-Ross articulated the way people react to very bad news over 50 years ago. At this time, our society as a whole is stuck in the first two stages she outlined, denial and anger. In order to move forward, we need to work though the other stages to the level of acceptance. Only then will we as a society be able to begin to deal with these crises and look for solutions. This is a problem that each of us has to undertake on our own.

  3. The fantastic Mpls artist has a great FB portrait ….LK does his interpretation of quotations that appear Monday’s in the Strib commentary section. This LKHanon creation is of dancer Ted Shawn’s quote …”When in Doubt ,Twirl.” It works …

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.