Well, let me clarify. I obviously don’t hate a hardworking, fiercely dedicated Brooklyn principal rescued from burnout and the beautiful young man she’s helping to educate, if not save altogether. (More on Mott Hall Bridges Academy here.) But here’s the thing I do hate.
We’ll give over a $1,000,000 to a struggling public school, but we won’t give a thought as to why we needed Humans of New York to bring its plight to life for us.
We’ll send a deserving young man to the White House, but we won’t send our selves to the polls to elect the politicians there.
We’ll make the story of a single poor individual in school go viral, but we’ll make the fact that a majority of the students in public schools right now are in poverty A13 in the New York Times.
Why do we do this? Because we want the story more than we want the facts. We want the story more than we want the hard work of understanding the story.
Don’t get me wrong. As a storyteller and English teacher, I deeply understand the need both for kindness and for stories. I applaud Humans of New York in particular for telling stories that aim to be as pure as they can get. Brandon Stanton gives us a picture, the words of the person in the picture, and that’s it. That’s well done. And the need for kindness? Well, kindness saves marriages, builds personal resources, and may propagate our species. That we need kindness is incontestable.
But when we fail to place these kindnesses, these stories, within the political and socioeconomic context in which they exist, we fail them. We fail to understand the conditions which caused them to be necessary. We fail to examine how they can be, not replicated, but made relevant. We fail through our decreasing civic engagement, our entertainment-media machine, and, ironically, through tolerating the policies which make it all but impossible for anyone but the privileged to have the free time to even think about our governance, much less research it.
And so we fail ourselves.
We do not need kindness in a vacuum. We do not need Humans of New York, branded Target compassion, or Sterling Heights Suburban Ford to distract us from the larger issues at hand. We do not need yet another version of the pervasive American myth that rugged individualism is our saving grace, that one lone wolf act of kindness is enough.
We– Vidal Chastinet, Nadia Lopez, and all the humans– deserve better than that.