It was the fall of 1990, and the Iraq war was brewing. Despite his success as the newly appointed Pakistan chair at Cambridge University, a Muslim professor felt stuck. Amid the rise of rampant Islamophobia in Europe, he had been invited to speak at the Royal Anthropological Institute of London to Princess Diana. While he considered centering his talk on international relations, the professor ultimately decided to speak on kindness. Wearing a traditional Pakistani shalwar kameez, he stood before Princess Diana and spoke on the importance of kindness and leadership. Thirty-three years later, in the summer of 2023, Professor Akbar Ahmed logs onto the virtual Zoom call for MACFEST’s event “Kindness and Integrity – Leadership in a Troubled World” without any doubt over what he and his fellow panelists will discuss. In conversation with Ian Cameron, the President of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, and Professor Karin Vogt of Heidelberg University, Ahmed turns to history for proof that kindness and leadership are the antidote during troubled times. He does not forget to warmly acknowledge Qaisra Shiraz the founder of Macfest and her remarkable success with nurturing it. For every example history provides us of ruthless leaders who abuse their power and wreak havoc upon their nations, there are a dozen moments of kindness and human compassion tucked away in the storybook of our world. Professor Ahmed begins his lecture with a story about the Prophet of Islam who, upon learning that the woman who had tormented him daily with filth and garbage had fallen ill, went to her bedside with fruit and forgiveness. The woman in the story wept with shame, not understanding what she had done to garner such compassion. Perhaps in today’s “age of madness” or “farewell tour,” as scholars have called it, we too are conflicted over whether displays of kindness like that make sense politically. If the world is “doomed” as scholars and the media claim, why practice kindness alongside our leadership? Ahmed quotes British historian Andrew Roberts, who noted that “morality cannot be equated to leadership,” as depicted by his inclusion of Stalin and Hitler in his study on leadership. If one can be an unkind leader and still have power, why should we employ kindness toward our enemy? It is this very language – “enemy” – that explains the faulty reasoning in so many cases of international and interfaith conflict. ‘Good trouble,’ a phrase coined by activist John Lewis, can be executed peacefully and with compassion toward others. Post-9/11, there was a shift in the language used to describe the political “other” and the religious “other.” Words like “enhanced interrogation,” “decapitate,” and “hunting the enemy,” Ahmed lists, began finding their way into Washington’s political jargon and were used to dehumanize whoever found themselves to be the “other” of America’s fickle disdain. Quite fickle is this American disdain, almost eerily similar to what Ahmed has described as the “soft spot theory” of Europe, which was meant to describe the region’s ever-changing dislike for different groups- from Jews to Muslims. What matters in America today is not necessarily who we agree the “other” to be, for multiple answers suffice here. Rather, we must take Professor Ahmed’s advice and look not to the fatalism that marks our media today but to the hope history opens our eyes to. History reminds us of countless successful bridge-builders across the world who employed practices of kindness and compassion to those different and sometimes in opposition to themselves. From Mr. Jinnah the Quaid-I -Azam breaking protocol as Governor General of Pakistan to plunge into a Muslim mob and protect a Hindu group in Karachi to Jesus asking for God’s forgiveness on behalf of the Romans killing and torturing Him, the intertwining of kindness and leadership can be found in people of every faith and identity in history. The stories tend to repeat themselves, with Mr. Jinnah’s insistence to break protocol in order to restore peace acting as a mirror to Princess Diana’s insistence to break “social protocol” and shake hands with an AIDS patient. These leaders that Ahmed brings up remind us that the timeless value of human compassion surpasses the ever-changing technology, customs, and protocols of our current day. While American leaders called refugees “rabid dogs” and aligned with a custom of non-interference, Pope Francis was seen washing refugees’ feet. These leaders prove that “good trouble,” a phrase coined by U.S. Representative and activist John Lewis, can be executed peacefully and with compassion toward others. Thirty-three years after Professor Ahmed’s London talk, the world is in a very different place- uncontrollable viruses, genocide, and evolving AI on the minds of many across the globe. Despite this, Ahmed vouches for kindness in the face of conflict and hope in the face of fatalism. “Even if the end of time is upon you, and you have a seedling in your hand,” Ahmed says, quoting the Prophet of Islam, “plant it.” As my third year of college approaches, I find myself ready to listen- –ready to listen to my professors’ lectures, to the news, to the ever-changing feed of social media, to my classmates in D.C. and to my hometown friends from Willoughby, Ohio. I listen to conflicting messages- professors who have hope for the future and those who don’t, news that makes me excited to enter the workforce and news that makes me scared to, friends who deeply dislike this country and friends who ardently love it. As I listen to all these people, I remember the quote from Akbar the Great that Professor Ahmed read during his talk. “It is my duty,” he said, “to be in good understanding with all men.” My year spent alongside Professor Ahmed’s “Minglers” project team as a research mentee has opened my eyes to the beauty of finding that “good understanding with all men.” In an increasingly polarized America, there are some people I tell myself I will never be in “good understanding” with. Yet, if the Prophet of Islam can bring fruit to the woman who threw filth at him and Jesus can ask for forgiveness for the soldiers who tied Him to the cross, I can find it inside me to offer kindness to those around me and plant my seed. The writer is a student at American University’s School of International Service.