I recently read a column by Amy Abbott titled, "The Megaphone Incident and 9 Other Reasons Why I'll Never Be Governor of Virginia." She wrote it after news broke about Gov. Ralph Northam having appeared in blackface in his medical school yearbook and the search for a replacement governor was underway.
Amy Abbott's self-described political career-enders included things like performing a scene from "Carrie" over a megaphone from her seventh-floor dorm residence and eating most of the icing off a cake her mother had made and blaming her little brother. Neither of these actions, nor the other seven (equally harmless) ones, would really keep her from being governor of Virginia, though never having lived in Virginia might — as might her lack of political ambition.
Like Abbott, I will also never be governor of Virginia. I've never taken to a megaphone to perform anything, and while I did one day try to steal a fish out of my brother's aquarium, I blamed it on the fish, not my brother. What I have done recently that I am ashamed of is shut my door on a Girl Scout bearing an armload of cookies. While this didn't spell the end of my political career on the national stage (because I don't have one), I'm pretty sure it did spell the end of my popularity in the neighborhood.
To be clear, I like Girl Scout cookies, and I like Girl Scouts. I just don't like when they show up together at the moment one of my dogs decides to lose her mind and start growling savagely at the other dog, who is deaf and therefore doesn't understand his peril.
I did apologize to the girl as I was shutting the door. But while I was apologizing, I was also was thinking about how Girl Scout cookies are a huge rip-off anyway. A few minutes later when I was out walking with the aforementioned dogs, I overheard a neighbor talking to the Girl Scout.
"Here's a $10 bill," she said. "Keep the extra $2 as a donation." Turns out Girls Scout cookies are possibly the only thing left in the world besides canned beans that are NOT a rip-off. Which means not only was I unkind and tactless, I was also thoughtless. Maybe I can be governor of Virginia.
The next day I was at Target when I heard a little girl striding down the main thoroughfare between the yoga wear and the maternity clothes calling out, "Hello!" "Hi! How are you?" cheerfully as she went.
I wheeled around to see this wonder child who, to hear her talk, had more friends on a single aisle of Target than I have between all three of my Facebook pages plus Instagram combined. She was greeting the mannequins.
"Oh," she said, passing a particularly haunting-looking one. "You don't have any eyes! Well, have a good day!"
Not only was she careful to acknowledge each and every mannequin, including those with frightening disabilities, she was doing it in a kinder voice than I had managed to muster for the neighborhood (human) cookie salesgirl.
Because it generally takes me many tries before I learn any kind of lesson, moral or otherwise, I shouldn't have been surprised when, the following evening, the whole question of kindness came up yet again, when another couple and my husband and I were having a heated discussion about Aunt Bee from "The Andy Griffith Show." I said I thought she was sweet to Andy and Opie. Sure, she had her flaws, primary among them a high, grating voice that made you want to slap tape over her mouth, but she took good care of her "boys."
My husband, on the other hand, practically spat at the mention of Aunt Bee's name, having apparently nursed a half-century's worth of rage about her arrogant and domineering ways. Turns out he may have had the true bead on her. Numerous articles about the actress (Frances Bavier) report that she and Andy Griffith did not get along well and that she was difficult to work with; one quotes Ron Howard as saying, "I just don't think she enjoyed being around children that much." Who would have thought that a roiling disaffection underpinned Aunt Bee's angelic TV demeanor? It makes me wonder which is worse: to occasionally be unkind (but regret it), or to fake a kindness that isn't truly there.
And the question of kindness came up yet again at a dinner just a few days after the Aunt Bee dust-up, when someone asked how we make decisions about whom and how and what to forgive. Because there are levels of egregiousness when it comes to bad behavior. There are mostly harmless actions committed out of youthful indiscretion (Amy Abbott blaming her brother for eating the cake icing); there are the slightly more-unkind acts committed out of impatience (shutting a door on a child); there is the unchecked unkindness of people paid to fake nice; and there are the truly regrettable actions of [governors and] those who should surely know better.
What if, another person at dinner asked, rather than heeding the maxim "forgive and forget," we practiced "forgive and remember"? In other words, what if we acknowledge regrettable actions — starting with our own — and, by virtue of forgiving and remembering, bring better behavior to bear the next time around?
These are questions worth asking, in the spirit of kindness.
Dana Shavin is the author of a memoir, "The Body Tourist." Her website is DanaShavin.com. Email her at email@example.com.