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Steve Bell hoping to spread some Kindness

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People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?"

That plaintive plea was issued 19 years ago by Rodney King, the African-American man whose beating by four white police officers sparked the terrible 1992 Los Angeles riots.

King issued the call for calm during riots, which followed the acquittal of the officers charged in his beating. More than 50 people died, and as many as 2,000 were injured during the six-day disturbance, which also resulted in about $1 billion in property damage.

There are no riots in Canada or the U.S. today, but King's words still echo -- a small, dim voice almost drowned out by the abusive, angry and acrimonious din of what passes for political discourse in both countries.

When I watch coverage of question period in Parliament, or see attack ads on TV, I hear myself, like King, asking: "Can't we just get along?"

Apparently, the answer is no. Attack ads work, we're told. Meanwhile, politicians play to the cameras for juicy sound bites.

It's enough to make one despair, especially with the threat of another election on the horizon.

It's not much better on media websites. The vitriolic and dismissive tone of much of what passes for civil discourse is neither civil nor much of a discourse.

Maybe what this country needs is to learn how to be kinder.

That's what singer and songwriter Steve Bell believes. He's just finished a new album called -- appropriately -- Kindness.

For Bell, the album comes at the end of a long period of despair about the state of the world. Trips to the developing world, where he saw the terrible effects of poverty first-hand, left him shaken. But it was a visit to Israel and Palestine that caused the deepest pain.

"I didn't know how to process it, or deal with it," he says of the way Israelis and Palestinians "inflict suffering on each other."

Life in Canada was no better. He despaired of what he calls the "accelerated and alarming degradation of public discourse." Thoughtful public debate, he says, was "thoroughly abandoned" for "vitriol and smug insult."

The result was years of writer's block.

"It was dreadful," says the Juno Award winner. "I thought my career was over. I just couldn't turn out a song."

Following a five-day silent retreat at a cottage, he came to the realization there wasn't anything he could do to fix the problems of the world.

"I was grieving my inability to do anything about the problems of the world, but I realized there is nothing I can do, nothing I can sing that can make it better," he says. "Nothing in me can fix it, nor is it my responsibility to fix the world."

As a bonus, "a song was waiting for me" at the end of his retreat -- the first one he had been able to write in quite a while.

Called Birth of a Song, the first stanza goes like this:

God is everything to me

 

 

I myself can do nothing

 

 

Spare nothing, bear nothing

 

 

Old weathered womb in waiting.

This insight was "humbling, but kind of good," Bell says.

But if he no longer felt the burden of having to fix the world, what should he do with his time? "The only thing I can do -- be kind," he says.

Not kindness in a sentimental sense, he notes, "but in a relational sense, being kind because we are kin -- we need each other."

For Bell, "kindness is fundamental to the fabric of an authentic, good life. It flows from a deeply internalized knowledge of the kinship of all things."

It's also key to his understanding of how God wants to be in relationship with human beings -- to have communion with them.

"If we are made in the image of God, and the image of God is community, then I can't be whole without you," he says.

Through the CD -- his 15th -- Bell hopes to inspire others to try to be kinder in all they say and do.

"This small collection of songs is ill-equipped to carry the freight of a word such as kindness," he says. "But if in any way it serves as a signpost, I'm pleased."

Can we all get along? Maybe -- if we all realize that, in the end, we really do need each other, no matter our political or other views, and start showing a little kindness.

More information about Kindness can be found at www.stevebell.com.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 19, 2011 J13

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