Imagine you send out a fairly innocuous tweet, and moments later a person you don't know responds with one word: "C---."
What would you do? Would you fire back at him? Maybe. Would you immediately block him? Almost certainly.
But that's not what Sarah Silverman, the comedian known for brutal honesty and a rapier-like wit, did. She chose a different response.
"I believe in you. I read ur timeline & I see what ur doing & your rage is thinly veiled pain," she tweeted back. "But u know that. I know this feeling. Ps My back F--king sux too," referencing back problems the user had described in his Twitter feed. "see what happens when u choose love. I see it in you."
What happened next? Surprisingly (or then again, possibly not), the stranger responded in kind, letting down his guard and explaining his anger and pain. "I can't choose love," he tweeted. "A man that resembles Kevin Spacey took that away when I was 8. I can't find peace if I could find that guy who ripped my body who stripped my innocence I'd kill him. He f--ked me up and I'm poor so it's hard to get help."
Silverman went on to turn what started as an impersonal exchange into a genuine conversation, showing genuine empathy and eventually suggesting that he join a support group.
"I want to kill him too so I can't imagine your rage," she tweeted. "All I know is this rage- and even if you could kill him-- it's punishing yourself. And you don't deserve punishment. You deserve support. Go to one of these support groups. You might meet ur best bros there."
After admitting that he's "super antisocial" and feels like he has no friends, the stranger apologized -- and agreed to go to a support group.
Very cool, right? But Silverman didn't stop there. She asked her audience for help.
And that same day, a spinal clinic in San Diego responded.
Why was Silverman's response so powerful?
Think about people you truly respect. Think about people you truly admire. Think about people you love to be around. They may not be rich. They may not be highly accomplished. They may not be household names.
Yet you love to be around them -- and you would love to be more like them. What sets them apart from everyone else?
They give: generously, selflessly, and without expectation of return. They give because their happiness -- and their success -- comes, at least in part, from someone else's happiness, and someone else's success.
And they do so even when being generous is hard. Silverman didn't have to respond kindly. Silverman didn't have to respond compassionately. But she did, because she had the emotional intelligence to know there was a lot going on under the surface of the stranger's anger.
Sometimes anger is a front for pain. Sometimes rudeness is a front for insecurity.
But kindness, genuine kindness, is never a front for anything.