In 1960, John Steinbeck set off on a 10,000 mile journey across America in a camper with his dog, Charley. He knew he did not have long to live and he wished to see America up close, one last time. He felt that as a writer, he was no longer familiar with the country he wrote about and he wished to change that. Travels with Charley: In Search of America tells the story of this journey, and it would be one of Steinbeck’s last books.
Towards the end of his journey, Steinbeck arrived in New Orleans just in time to witness history. A six year old African-American girl, Ruby Bridges, was attending an all white school; this was the first time this had occurred anywhere in the South. Quite a number of people were unhappy about this and staged a demonstration. There, in front of TV cameras, they threw tomatoes and shouted insults at a young girl who did not understand what people were so angry about.
The incident troubled Steinbeck. He knew not everyone agreed with the actions of the crowd on that day, but people watching it on TV would see only hate.
Steinbeck was left wondering, “Where were the others?” The others being those who did not agree with the crowd. He decided that they probably felt frustrated and powerless, so they did not show up to the demonstration.
This question is a major reason why A Kind Voice exists. We tell the stories of people using their kind voices so it’s never in doubt where the others are. They are all around us, and hearing their stories can help us connect and inspire others who need to hear a kind voice.
Using your kind voice does not require you to be a part of history, like Ruby Bridges was. Sometimes it just requires you to be an observer in life. Author Anne Riley and her husband started a program called play it forward, after they noticed that the park they lived across from was barely used. This was an opportunity to enact positive change. Their goal for the program was simple: if you live near a community park, leave basketballs, soccer balls, footballs, etc; with the stipulation that they are free to be used by anyone, as long as they remain in the park. The program was a success, but what really surprised Anne was how people adapted the program in ways that she had never envisioned, such as leaving a fishing rod by a lake or stream for anyone to use. Using your kind voice can produce unanticipated results.
Being an observer in life also lets you benefit from these unexpected opportunities. Artist Jennifer Chenoweth has experienced this many times. When writing proposals for grants or exhibitions, she discovered that sometimes receiving a no wasn’t necessarily a rejection. Occasionally, rejected proposals would find their way to people who actually offered her a more desirable opportunity. In her own words, “it’s kind of like the seed you planted in one place actually got picked up and took root somewhere else and sprouted.”
When John Steinbeck set out across America he wanted to meet the kind of people who are seldom written about. In her essay Always Be Cool To The Pizza Dude, Sarah Adams is also writing about someone who usually isn’t written about. Although the essay is about her personal philosophy of why she is always kind to pizza delivery people, the pizza dude can be a metaphor for anyone: someone that needs a break, who is working hard for not a lot of money. We’ve all been there, that’s why it’s important to show them empathy. When we project our kind voice toward the pizza dude, we are creating currents of kindness that benefit us and those around us, sometimes in ways we can’t immediately fathom.
Steinbeck encountered many such people on his journey. The mission of A Kind Voice is to bring stories to light that we don’t often hear about in today’s world. Just as Steinbeck wanted to experience America first hand and write about what he saw, A Kind Voice wants to broadcast the stories that make us aware of the good going on around us. This inspires people to tell their own stories which can inspire even more people.