It happened as the parade of cars drove through our town, our children’s teachers beeping and beaming as we waved.
It happened as I attended the virtual graduation ceremony at City College and read the students and parents’ supportive and proud comments and emojis scroll down the Youtube Live chat box for an hour.
It happened as I watched each episode of Some Good News, as each story chronicled one beautiful act of appreciation after another.
Tears rolling down my face, not born from sadness but from kindness.
In a recent episode of Ricky Gervais’s Netflix series, After Life, he describes this phenomenon. His sentiments echoed in this BBC interview recorded before the pandemic. At the :57 mark the often cynical Gervais says, “Kindness makes me cry because it’s so needed, so beautiful and people give it up so willingly.”
There are many theories about why we cry during these moments, psychologist Oriana R. Aragón says, “crying intensifies life’s happiest moments. Our tears release neurotransmitters known as leucine enkephalin, which can act as a natural painkiller. When people cry because they’re sad, this makes them feel better. But when people cry because they’re happy, that same neurotransmitter makes them feel that much happier. In other words, tears encourage catharsis.”
Seeing acts of kindness are not just individually medicinal but can also collectively heal.
Moral psychologist and author, Jonathan Haidt points out in The Atlantic, there are more stories today about moral beauty than moral depravity. One possible reason why, notwithstanding our political divides, an April survey showed over 90% of Americans agreeing that “we’re all in this together.” and the number of Americans who say we are “deeply divided” as a country has plummeted from over 60% to just 22%.
As the pandemic subsides, people and communities may begin to act differently, perhaps less kind and more out of self-interest. If so, these numbers and our public sentiment may change in ways we would prefer they didn’t and we can hardly afford. Stories will emphasize conflict not comfort. Individual prosperity could trump feelings of solidarity.
Tear is a heteronym. It can be pronounced two different ways with two different meanings. In today’s context, there is a choice: /tere/ a drop of liquid that unites us or /tare/ an act that rips us apart.
When you look around, what will you see?