Random Acts of Mandation

When is kindness not kindness?

Might not as far up the philosophical ladder as, say, can God create a rock that is so heavy that God can’t lift it. But it’s a question I’ve been forced to come to terms with at work recently.  

How does one define kindness? How does one encourage it in others?

When Kommandant Newsom tells us we must be kind or ELSE!

And yeah, you’re gonna need to get that notarized.

We recently went through something called the California Kindness Challenge, where the State Superintendent required all school districts to come up with a kindness plan. Districts, in turn, did what districts do best, which is to pass the buck on to private companies that exist for the sole purpose of milking money out of districts. Nice synergy in that “passing the buck” here refers to both shirking responsibility and also sending loads of cash down the pipeline like a human centipede. Although in this case, you definitely want to be the end of the centipede. The shit is much tastier and you don’t have to do much for it.

These companies are great at mixing and matching their message to the educational issue du jour. We had a group of bike riders come in for two assemblies. They did cool tricks, spinning on handlebars and riding up and down ramps. The students all loved it. In between their radical rotations, they’d grab a microphone and preach whatever they were hired to preach. One year it was about trying hard on the standardized tests. Four years later, the bike tricks were exactly the same, but the messages were about cyber bullying. Maybe they’ll come back next year very concerned about Social and Emotional Learning or Lockdown Learning Loss.

Shit, if you pay me $10,000 a day (plus expenses) to ride a bike, I’ll say whatever message you want me to say. Booze is bad, abstinence is cool, punch your friends? You name it. Raise my daily rate to 20K and your kids can punch me.

This year, it’s all about kindness.

Here’s where I’m torn. I truly believe we need more kindness, especially in high schools. Most of the problems we’re facing as a nation, maybe as a world, come from a general lack of empathy. We assume everyone else is out to fuck us over so we need to fuck them over first. If the members of Congress would do something as simple as holding the door open for members of the other party then, who knows, maybe we could pass a budget.

Unless they’re being forced to open the door. Then it’s some sanctimonious bullshit.

I’ve explained this internal Civil War to my students. Don’t let the fact that California is mandating it, and that our own district will half-ass it to death, detract from the importance of the message. In fact, whatever they tell us to do, ignore it, and just focus on treating other human beings like they’re, I don’t know, human beings? Each of whom is trying to get through this fuck-up of a world without driving off the closest cliff.

What’s that? Some guy was arrested for intentionally driving his entire family off a cliff? Yeah, our society is on a razor’s fucking edge right now.

So how did my district end up half-assing this mandate? 

First, we challenged our students to do one million acts of kindness. Not individually, as that might be a little hard to reach. Unless you count not flipping off the assholes who cut me off in traffic as an act of kindness, in which case I could reach a million by the midpoint of my average commute. But a million acts of kindness, collectively, which they divided out to about forty per student in the district. Although probably need to up that to fifty, because those dumb fucks in kindergarten can’t count to forty.

Sorry, was that unkind? Debit it from the guy I didn’t flip off.

But again, not too bad of a message. If you’re a little bit kinder, and everybody else is a little bit kinder, then we might all be a little less red-ass all the time. I think I can get behind this…

What’s that? We’re supposed to download an app and log into it every time we do something kind? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.

These aren’t really “random acts,” are they? This isn’t a general “be kinder” missive. This is something we’re supposed to keep track of. We’re supposed to stand up and acknowledge that we’re fucking awesome. Pat me on the back, mother fucker, because I was just nice to you.

If your empathy doesn’t come with an ounce of humility, then it’s probably just condescension. Not that Gavin Newsom would know anything about that.

I’ve got some questions about this app thing. Does it count if I don’t have my phone with me? Like when I leave my FitBit at home, I sure as hell ain’t gonna move my ass. So sorry, old lady crossing the street, but I ain’t gonna give you the right of way unless I get a cool little virtual badge for it.

Now let’s assume I have my phone on me, so I open the door for five people walking behind me. Is that five acts of kindness or one? If it’s only one, then isn’t the courteous thing to slam the door on person number two? Then he has a chance to open the door for the next person in line. Quantity over quality, amirite?

On the other hand, if I get credit for every person that benefits from my kindness, then I can just delay a quiz by a day and get credit for one hundred. Then I can go rob a bank or something and still be ahead on my karma quota.

Although the kid who was ready to take the quiz today might consider this delay to NOT be an act of kindness. Must the recipient acknowledge a kindness for it to count? Perhaps they should need to sign off in my app with, I don’t know, a sample of their blood to prove my kindness. Kindly insert this anal probe for verifi… oops, looks like your DNA’s already received a notarized act of kindness. Please return to the crosswalk so I can run over you.

My district didn’t stop at the million acts of kindness, though. They wanted to add one cohesive thing we can do all together as a district. Not because the district cares, but because the company they hired to check the state-required wants to put it up on their website so they can get five figures from more half-assing districts. 

After all, we fell for their examples from other districts. One district had students donate their used shoes to a homeless shelter. Another collected canned food for their local food bank, even though most food banks don’t take food anymore and prefer cash. Details, details. The point of this exercise is to look good on local media, not to actually help people.

So my district, in its infinite wisdom, after weeks of workshopping minutes of afterthought, decided that instead of shoes or food, we would collect… 5,000 pounds of coffee!

Not used coffee, thankfully, because coffee grounds might actually be useful for composting. Rather, a full pound of sealed, store-bought coffee grounds. Making it a deliberate act of kindness, not a random one, forcing our students, many of whom have little in the way of transportation, into an explicit trip to the store in order to buy something to bring to school and donate to someone else. Someone who makes more money than the families that are buying the coffee. Or if I was forced to go to Macy’s to buy a dress shirt for a billionaire.

Because you’ll note I haven’t yet said WHO gets the 5,000 pounds of coffee. Not a homeless shelter, where I assume hot coffee would get them through some cold nights. Not a women’s shelter, of which there are a few in the town where I teach. Heck, it isn’t even some mom-and-pop breakfast restaurants, who are struggling to compete against the Dennys and the IHOPs of the world. Not having to pay for the coffee would go far helping that restaurant be in the black for a few months. Provided they could store 5,000 pounds of coffee, because my district wants to deliver the coffee all at once. Better for publicity, and one should not pursue kindness if one is not getting good press out of it. 

You know who, I guaran-fucking-tee, already have enough goddamn coffee? The federal government.

That’s right. We’re giving our coffee to the military. Because… Because… It’s for the Troops! Nobody can get upset about doing something nice for the Troops, right? 

I’m all for supporting the military. Give ’em guns, give ’em armor. It was especially a thing while we were embroiled in multiple foreign wars. One might quibble over whether said wars were just, but the soldiers can’t control that. Even if most of them joined so they could shoot other foreigners. Oh, plus having everyone kiss your ass and tell you how wonderful you are. Trust me, I’m a teacher. Most of the people in my profession regularly spout off about being a special population that ought to be revered as such.

As an added bonus, teachers are allowed to drink coffee. Which, evidently, the soldiers… can’t?

By the way, the district doesn’t provide coffee for us. We only get to drink it if we bring our own. Maybe that’s why my district thinks soldiers are in the same boat.

Maybe we should have our students give coffee to their teachers? That’s a kindness that might benefit them, too.

My daughter is a Girl Scout, and when she’s shilling her cookie madness every year, they have a “Support the Troops” option. She’s supposed to sell at least ten of them to get, I don’t know, a badge or a shirt or something. I usually cringe when she rattles off her spiel. “If you don’t want the cookies for yourself, you can send some to the troops.” I mean, it’s better than “The Governor tells you you have to redistribute your cookies to those less fortunate,” but it’s still a bit jarring. If I ain’t buying cookies for myself, the last thing I want to do is buy some for somebody else. Especially somebody who is gainfully employed in addition to having all of their room and board provided.

But at least with the Girl Scout cookies, I can convince myself that there are troops stationed far from home who might not have access to their local grocery store or cannabis dealer and their ubiquitous cookie stands this time of year. Maybe you’re stationed in, I don’t know, West Berlin, where girl scouts don’t exist. What’s that? We don’t have a lot of troops stationed at the Berlin Wall anymore? Hmm.. Now that I mention it, I bet those guys stationed in Germany or Italy have access to the internet, where they can have cookies shipped to them. Although shipping’s probably a bitch, so yeah, my daughter collecting six bucks from someone who wants to feel like they’re supporting both the Girl Scouts and the military at the same time, I guess it’s not a terrible idea. We’re not saying the military or poor, miserly beggars, only that their job currently requires them to be somewhere far away from the usual comforts of home. 

One might call that an act of kindness.

I assume my district glommed onto “Ferda Troops!” because our school board faced a lot of flack from a certain segment of the population over school closure. Which then morphed into masks. Which then morphed in Critical Race Theory, which we don’t teach, and the Pledge of Allegiance, which we do every day but which this certain segment thinks has been taken out of schools. I’ll let you guess which segment that is, but let’s just say they really like the military.

As an added bonus, Herr Kommandant Newsom probably doesn’t really like the military. Maybe they wanted to throw his stupid mandate back in his face, by showing their mandated acts of kindness toward an entity that Herr Kommandant hates.

Or the school board did as it usually does when it gets an ill-thought-out mandate from the state, which is half-ass its implementation even more. 

Does the military even WANT 5000 pounds of coffee? That’s a lot of fucking coffee. Where will they store it? Will it go stale by the time they use it? It’ll take a school bus to deliver, which is something my district allegedly never has enough of to spare for any reason, whatsoever. The football team can drive themselves to the goddamn away game.

I also assume it’s a logistical nightmare to incorporate 5,000 extra pounds 

Unlike Girl Scout cookies, I’m pretty sure every military base, even those stationed overseas, are able to track down coffee. I’ve heard plenty of former military types complain about what it’s like to be stationed overseas. It’s not all alcohol and prostitutes. A lot of the places they are stationed don’t have quite the infrastructure they’re used to at home. Lots of sand. And long days. Especially when we’re at war. 

You know what I’ve never heard anybody complain about? The food. Maybe back in Vietnam or World War II, when we had millions deployed, the quality of a breakfast might suffer, but these days, they eat pretty well. Even at the height of World War II, when the GI’s were gruelling through winter in northern France, eating dehydrated rations, you know what they had plenty of? Coffee. 

And that was back in the day when the federal government pretended it cared about wasteful spending. Nowadays I jcan’t imagine a Congressmember shutting down the government over a Yuban Conference. They might cut Kevin McCarthy’s Starbucks allowance, but every military base, every outpost, every pontoon and submarine, is chock full of Joe.

The only entity our donation is being kind to is the federal budget. It’s already got 31 trillion acts of kindness. Unless my district is claiming this act of kindness is aimed at maintaining a good bond rating now that we’re past the debt ceiling. That’s a kindness for everyone, provided some bureaucrat notices the coffee rations they proved last month went undrank, and adjusts this month’s requisition. But not next month’s, because then those soldiers will have no coffee and grumpy soldiers with caffeine headaches all month long ain’t a kindness for nobody. 

Ha ha, jk. Nobody at my district office thought this out beyond “everybody likes coffee” and “everybody likes troops.”

So good news, modern GIs, if my working-class students, many of whose entire family makes less than one army brat, can get off their lazy asses, you’ll..  find a random shipment of more coffee than you’ll ever need. 

And if that ain’t an act of kindness, then I don’t know what the definition of kindness is. 

I’d look it up in a dictionary, but my district didn’t consider that a good use of resources.

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