Wednesday, February 17, 2021 : By John Simmons
One would think that a simple act of neighborly kindness would be welcome these days, especially given the political and cultural climate we live in.
Unfortunately, one Los Angeles Times author viewed a recent act of kindness demonstrated towards her as a far more complex situation — and made a point of publicly analyzing it in an article.
Virginia Heffernan, who lives in California, woke up after a snowstorm and saw that her driveway had been plowed by her neighbors, who were known Trump and law enforcement supporters. Heffernan wrote that her neighbors “plowed our driveway without being asked and did a great job” — but then spent the rest of her essay making the audacious claim that the actions of these “Trumpites next door” could not have been entirely pure due to their political views.
She equated their kindness with being racially motivated, because her neighbors only showed (as far as she knew) kindness to their white neighbor. She even tried to make the twisted connection that their act of service was no different from the kindness that the Nazis occasionally showed to some of their conquered subjects. In her eyes, the mere action of voting for Trump and the “damage” he did in his four years of office were enough for her to question the sincerity of their actions.
Her conclusion was that her neighbors — and every Trump supporter — must do a lot more than a little snow plowing to gain her trust back. She wrote:
“But I can offer a standing invitation to make amends. Not with a snowplow but by recognizing the truth about the Trump administration and, more important, by working for justice for all those whom the administration harmed. Only when we work shoulder to shoulder to repair the damage of the last four years will we even begin to dig out of this storm.”
This is a classic example of oversimplifying one’s character based off of how they voted and why Heffernan made errors in her assessment of the situation.
As a lifelong New Englander who has seen his fair share of snowstorms, I can appreciate the fact that anyone would take the initiative to plow someone else’s driveway. That takes a lot of work and time and consideration, and it should have been enough for Heffernan to appreciate. The fact that it did not says more about Heffernan than her neighbors. After all, they obviously chose to be kind to her even though they must have known that she didn’t vote the way they would have preferred.
Furthermore, why would Heffernan automatically dehumanize her neighbors by assuming that they can’t possibly have a desire or an ability to be kind to others just because they voted for Trump. People are too quick to assume that just because you voted for a particular candidate, you must support every issue that they champion.
In 2014, Dr. Mark D. White, chair of the Department of Philosophy at the College of Staten Island/CUNY, wrote an article arguing that political issues are complex and nuanced (healthcare, immigration, etc.) and how you vote does not automatically reflect the entirety of who you are. “Specifically, overly simplistic, black-and-white characterizations of abstract political views tell us almost nothing about an individual person’s character,” he stated.
Does your vote reflect your belief system? Absolutely. But no candidate is perfect, so everyone will always vote for a candidate that they disagree with on some level. This could be true of the neighbors who plowed Heffernan’s driveway, something she also failed to see.
Finally, Heffernan’s conclusion in her article misses the point entirely. She wants her neighbors to deliver “justice” for all those she believed were harmed by Trump, but any type of justice or societal improvement does not come primarily through the government or from vain calls to some grand action. It can be realized most often in the day-to-day efforts of neighbors and communities helping each other and caring for one another.
In this case, Heffernan’s neighbors actually did provide justice in action: They saw a problem that was within their control to address and they fixed something that was wrong, of their own accord, without expecting anything in return. That is the fulfillment of the Golden Rule: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” If citizens across the country performed acts of kindness like this daily — rather than demanding that government or politicians fix every little problem or conflict — imagine how different our country would look and feel.
But alas, Heffernan was again blinded by her hatred for Trump and therefore judged her neighbor’s actions incorrectly. Imagine if, instead of virtue signaling her own sense of moral righteousness, she had given her neighbors the benefit of the doubt and appreciated their kind gesture. She might have felt inspired to “pay it forward” and then reached out to some other neighbor in need of a helping hand or a kind word. This is how simple justice and harmony is achieved and how our communities can heal and grow.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “I have a dream that that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
My dream is that we will also one day live in a country where the character of all of my fellow Americans is interpreted not by how they vote but by how they treat one another.