Peace for Chaos:

How Kindness Puts the World Back Together

Edited by Drew Friesen

By Phillip Hanson

    11 min. Read Time

Published January 1st, 2021

            For the majority of my time writing for this magazine, I have been questioning what brings peace to this world, what puts the world back together. The world is fractured and in pieces. It is chaos. I find that the most important question I can ask is what puts the world back together? What brings shalom from chaos? 
            This is the question that has preoccupied much of my thinking, and some of my writing as well. The first article I wrote for this magazine was about justice and peace. Justice is a powerful force that puts the world back together. In fact, what I asserted there (and still believe now) is that there is no peace without it. Yet I knew there was another article that needed to be written (and perhaps this article is not the one that must be written, but it is close). In one way I must answer that there is no peace without a just outcome, but yet there is hardly ever a just outcome in this world. So can there be no peace? There is something, I think, even stronger than justice (though it does not exclude justice), a curious something with perhaps the most profound ability to put the world back together. I am convinced that something is kindness. It is a perplexing virtue. How does kindness put the world back together? Yet I have seen that it does, so I have been forced to examine it. Of all the powerful forces in the world, kindness seems to rise higher in its ability to right wrongs, dispel chaos and bring life. I wonder in amazement at this power. There is still much I have to learn about kindness, but here I have the opportunity to write what I have seen and offer the answers and questions I have found in my inquiry of kindness. 

 

Kindness and Chaos

            If virtues are those things which repair this world and lead us into goodness, vices are those things which break the world apart and bring chaos. What impresses me with kindness is its ability to combat these forces. In my last article on the deadly sin of envy, I talked about shame. This is a profound fracturing force in this world. Again, bringing Curt Thomas into this discussion, very plainly he states, “[Shame’s] goal is to disintegrate any and every system it targets, be that one’s personal story, a family, marriage, friendship, church, school, community, business or political system. Its power lies in its subtlety and its silence, and it will not be satisfied until all hell breaks loose.”[1] What kindness offers is a shield and a covering against shame. 
            Consider this story from the Hebrew Scriptures, “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.  But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’ He answered, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid’”(Genesis 3:8-10 NIV). This is the impulse of shame, to pull back, to hide. We know that shame causes us to feel that what is most true of us is deficiency, brokenness or ugliness.[2] Shame is on full display in the story of Adam and Eve.[3] However, we also see in this story the kindness of God which covers shame. “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21 NIV). 
            In this story it is God’s kindness that covers the shame of the first couple. Key to this project is the conferral of dignity. God did not cover their shame because they merited it. That is not the point. it is not whether or not Adam and Eve deserved kindness. The point is that they were worthy of it. Kindness does not come from merit. It comes because of worth. Kindness is able to see the dignity of another and see that regardless of merit, everyone is worthy of kindness. 
            Kindness is the covering of our shame, it is also the antidote to living inside contempt.[4] Through trauma and abuse, we have learned to have contempt for ourselves. We have internalized the shame messages and also the rules set in place by contempt. You no longer need mom or dad to say that if you do not become more serious you will rightly be ridiculed and unsuccessful.[5] You ingested that message and now anytime you are silly or do something silly, you feel shame and tell yourself the same message that your parents used to tell you. Commenting on this principle, Author and counselor, Andrew Bauman says that over time “[abused people] don’t need the real abuser anymore because the abuser has become internalized. And they have just become to abuse themselves.”[6] 
            What kindness does is replace contempt. Shame will lead us to contempt which says that all failures, losers, idiots, misfits (fill in your own shame lie) are worthy of contempt and need to try harder to cover their shame with displays of success, wining, intellect, or conformity. What kindness does is flip this system on its head. Kindness does not remotely care who deserves contempt or praise or goodness. Kindness sees people and offers its gift. “But she needs to try harder. Remember the rules?” Contempt objects. “When someone is  silly, he gets mocked and he deserves it. If he works to become serious and respectable, then kindness is deserved, but not when he’s silly.” But kindness does not care. She gives herself freely and abundantly in flagrant defiance of the rules of shame. Kindness breaks down the wall of contempt by giving for free what contempt says we need to work our whole lives to deserve.  

 

Kindness and Peace

            I believe strongly that we live in a world between chaos and peace. Those of us who feel this suffer and are troubled in spirit to live between these two shores. It can be excruciating at times and tiring to be stretched between what is and what should be. I am certain this is the chasm in which we live. It is the valley and the sea. What has become an enduring focus for me in this last year is how to bridge the gap. Again, how can we put the world back together? Does kindness have anything to say here? When one is alerted to the realities of being stretched out between these shores, when one sees the world and all its chaos and disorder, when one desires only to know peace and shalom, how does she stay sane in that tumultuous sea? 
            My enduring question: what bridges the gap? Or, to use the language of this article, what puts the world back together? While I love the ability of kindness to cover shame and combat contempt: essentially to defend against the things which break the world, does it have the power to put a world already broken back together? 
            Let me share with you the story which first opened my eyes to be curious about the power of kindness to bring peace to a broken world. This is a very close story which is from my counselor and mentor, Autumn, who has not only taught but showed me kindness’s power to bring wholeness to brokenness. She tells this story of visiting her sick mother with Alzheimer's. She begins the story with a statement indicative of living in-between chaos and peace. Even though she chose to visit and care for her mother, Autumn remembers having “very little feeling for her mother.” She writes, “as I approached her bed I was not sure if she would know who I was or not. I had been preparing myself for that day, and even as I did I recognized the unemotional response my body had as I thought about it. The thoughts that would help me  settle my heart sounded something like, ‘she never even knew you anyway,’ ‘she probably never loved you anyway.’” This is that backdrop of chaos and brokenness, of the fracturing of the world. It is not right. However, there is more chaos to come in this story. 
            Autumn picks up the story later that night while she was putting her mother to bed. She had to take her mom to bed, but her mother would not come. As Autumn insisted, her mother amped up her defiance. Autumn writes, “I found myself becoming more and more angry...I became acutely aware of the things I began to feel in my body. I wanted to pull her hair out. ‘Maybe I should just drag her to bed, the little brat. What the hell?? Maybe I should just kill her!’ My senses were so shocking to my heart.” Anger is often my first response to living in chaos, to feeling the overwhelming weight of what is knowing what should be. It was not right. All the wrongs committed against Autumn through all her years converged in that moment in the chaos of her mother. All the abandonment, abuse and insanity, what was going to make all that right? Anger is a natural response. It is good to feel angry over injustice and the brokenness of the world. Yet somehow stale anger does not bring about the righteousness of God (Jas 1:10). It does not put the world back together. 
            So where did Autumn take this anger? As a counselor whose profession is to be curious and to question, how did she engage and question this emotion? Autumn writes, “the rage was so loud, but as I began to breathe, I began to soften. What did I need from her that I never received? Attunement, kindness.” She then boldly moves outward and asks, “What would kindness look like? Do I even want to give her what she never gave me? The questions thundered in my head. My heart began to settle and I knew instantly what I needed to do. I will offer her attunement, something that she could never give me as a child. I will give her in this moment something my heart longed from her but never received: kindness.”
            This is the power of kindness to fill the gap, to put the world back together. We can lose our minds in-between trying to pull the two ends together with our own strength, but for all our efforts there is still that gaping chasm, that raging sea. How can we fill such a hole? How can we quiet such a sea? Mysteriously, kindness is able to do what all our efforts cannot. Love is able to bridge the gap. 
            What Autumn did was attend to the gaping chasm in her own life by filling it with what she never received. It was not right that her mother never gave her what she needed as a child. She was worthy of kindness and attunement from her mother. There is a hole there that was conspicuously empty. With the strange power of kindness, Autumn was able to fill it. Not with her mother’s kindness: the kindness which should’ve been there in the first place, but with her own kindness for her mother. She filled the void of her own need by placing in the gap exactly what she needed, given to her mother.[7]
            Once sin enters our lives and we are taken from the shore of peace and placed into the swirling waters, we can wonder how we might ever return to those shores. Our world has been uncreated. We wonder, “how will this be made right?” “Who will pay for this?” When sin enters, we rightly blame the one who introduced the chaos, yet chaos is here now and the rightful (and needful) judgment of the offender cannot restore the world. It is broken even after he is punished. So how then can the world be repaired? How can we erase sin? “Above all, love eachother deeply, for love covers a multitude of sins” (1Pt 4:8 NIV). Love, kindness is what does this. Writing about kindness in the form of forgiving and forgetting Kierkegaard states, “Forgetting, when God does it in relation to sin, is the opposite of creating, since to create is to bring forth from nothing, and to forget is to take back into nothing...The One who loves forgives in this way: he forgives, he forgets, he blots out the sin, in love he turns towards the one he forgives; but when he turns towards him, he of course cannot see what is lying behind his back [the transgression he has forgave]” (Italics Added).[8] Through forgiveness and kindness we literally pull sin back into nothing. We “blot it out.” Through “turning in love” towards the offender (of all people!) we turn our back on the transgression, and in its place we offer the very thing which the transgression robbed to begin with. By turning in love towards the one who showed us no kindness, we cover sin. We fill that gap with our own kindness and in essence hide or cover a multitude of sins. With kindness, we are finally able to have peace, to fill the gap, to confront the chaos. With kindness we are able to overcome the world (Rom.12:12).

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Footnotes:

            [1] Curt Thompson, The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe about Ourselves (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 22.
            [2] Ibid., 24
            [3] See: Curt Thompson, The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe about Ourselves (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015) 100-111; See my last article on the deadly sin of envy: Phillip Hanson, "Living Inside Contempt: A Psychological Discussion of Envy" Worthwhile Theology Magazine, (Is. 6, Dec. 1, 2020, Online). Accessed Dec. 29, 2020: https://www.worthwhiletheology.com/envy
            [4] For an extended discussion of what it looks like to live inside contempt, see my last article from December: Hanson, "Living Inside Contempt," Online. 
            [5] Ibid. This is a “Contempt Rule.” The construction is, If you do or don’t do X action, then you will be worthy of contempt (whatever type corresponds to the so-called “shameful action”).
            [6] Adam Young, “Choosing Kindness: Engaging Stories of Shame with Andrew Bauman.” The Place We Find Ourselves, podcast audio, July 16, 2018, https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-place-we-find-ourselves/id1373926216?i=1000415910663. iTunes.
            [7] In an interview about this story, Adam Young, a counselor in Colorado comments on Autumn's story saying, “‘A desire stirs in you to give your mother the one thing you most needed from her and the thing never got from her. When I hear that portion of the story I think of the verse “overcome evil with good.’” That is Romans 12:12, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (NIV). This is a perfect verse. How do we overcome evil? How do we put the world back together? How do we battle with sin and chaos without losing our minds? Paul has an answer, overcome evil with good. Accessed Dec. 30, 2020: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-place-we-find-ourselves/id1373926216?i=1000421841140. 
            [8] Howard V. Hong, Edna H. Hong, Søren Kierkegaard, Kierkegaard's Writings, XVI, Volume 16: Works of Love (United Kingdom: Princeton University Press, 2013), 296.

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