Yammer of Thor: How to Be Kind

"In this bossy new column for Talkhouse, I will bestow many instructions for how to proceed in the face of crushing disappointment."

Hi. My name is Thor Harris. I have played with a lot of bands you might like, including Swans, Bill Callahan, Shearwater, Devendra Banhart, Amanda Palmer, Ben Frost, Jenny Hval, and Thor & Friends (my new band). I have also written grouchy, bossy lists telling others how to live their lives that people seem to like. One was called, “How to Tour in a Band or Whatever,” and another was called “How to Live Like a King on Very Little.” I talk a lot about living with depression. (A lot of people do, and the stigma is dying. But it ain’t dead yet.) I make videos, too. Recently, I was banned (temporarily) banned from Twitter for doing one about how to punch a Nazi without damaging your wrist. (My advice made some gun-owning suburbanites mad. You can’t please everyone.)

In this, my new column for Talkhouse, I will bestow many instructions for how to proceed in the face of crushing disappointment. I have much experience in this realm. I graduated in the bottom quarter of my high school class in 1983, but have gone on to learn a great many things that were not in the curriculum. You too can cultivate a self-righteous pomposity that I enjoy almost daily! This, coupled with self-loathing, will make you a well-rounded person.

To begin, I’d like to talk about the subversive nature of kindness. You can make your life a whole lot simpler and less draining if you choose to be good to others. Kindness sets the tone for civil interaction when you lead by example. Kindness is your most efficient tool for changing the world. However: We live in a world where kindness can be misconstrued as a lack of strength. I obsessively lifted weights in my teens because I was a soft, sensitive little boy who was afraid of bullies. (This ended up being a really good thing, because it changed my brain chemistry and connected me with my body in a way that only exercise can.) I got big and strong, but it was important that I remain gentle, agile, and kind. Part of the macho ethos, particularly, is based in emotional illiteracy. It’s the defining characteristic of the Marlboro Man. There’s a limit to how far that can go—it’s all kind of the same, and tough to relate to in a real way. There is nothing more boring than the company of a bunch of straight guys who are incapable of accessing their feelings.

No matter your gender: Cynicism is heavy armor that you may get tired of wearing. It closes you off from the world as much as it closes off the world from you. It’s part of why I talk about depression in public—it’s a way of showing people I’m vulnerable, and that it’s OK to be flawed. It’s a laying down of arms. An acknowledgment that our lives are short and our situations are usually less than ideal. It uses compassion to connect us. The truth is, unabashed vulnerability—acknowledging what scares you—takes far more strength and courage.

I often have to build rapport with people I’m working with so we know we’re on the same team. The people who made that video on depression were filming a crazy person, so I wanted to put them at ease. I want people to feel safe and OK. In my line of work, I often deal with surly sound people who have had to put up with a lot of attitude. The quicker I can show them that I’m a reasonable human being, the better the show will go. Best to start off with the assumption that the people you are working with are competent. Even if I realize someone is somewhat incompetent, I still need their best effort.

We all carry pain and anger around. If someone lashes out, I must realize that I am dealing with a wounded animal. Sometimes, people won’t reciprocate your kindness, but the longer we can take the high road, the more likely our subject is to realize he’s the only one fronting. It’s setting up the rules of engagement.

Most cruelty is based in capitalism. InfoWars, Fox News, Breitbart, and the Republican Party sell fear. They perceive the enemy as brown people, poor people, and terrorists. By not buying that, you stay in control. Sure, we all fear the government that Putin has helped to install, but the fighting has begun. The protests are huge. The calls to Congress are eroding the confidence of short-sighted cowards who would rob us of healthcare to give tax cuts to the rich. They will hurt many people, but in the end, they will leave in disgrace. We’ve seen this before: George W. Bush paints pictures of soldiers who died in a senseless war he chose. It’s an impotent attempt at reconciliation. His hands are covered in blood, so he paints to try to see some other color.

This ties into the idea of complete equality: Every person you speak with or deal with is another version of you, only with their self as the center of their universe, which overlaps with yours. Thusly, all our fates are linked. That dude sitting on death row is actually your brother. That kid in Flint who can’t drink the water is your responsibility. So is resisting the I.C.E. You cannot disconnect yourself from the fate of others. You have a responsibility to every living being.

It doesn’t help me or those around me if I let the divisive strategies of the current administration and its sycophants affect the way I treat others in the streets. We must illustrate the fact that the government we have is not doing the will of most of the people. We did not choose this fight, but we will prevail with our humanity intact. We can’t shoot nor shout our way out of this quicksand of ignorance. The civil rights movement of the mid-1960s has much to teach us about challenges we still face in 2017. We will read the words of Malcolm X., and review Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speeches. The great congressman and activist leader John Lewis is still marching for the people, just as he was then. We are inspired at this time by them as we once again face the tyranny of idiots.

We need every one of us. We each have our own resources to help the resistance. I can get in the faces of white-power cowards without being shot by cops. My black brothers and sisters might not have that luxury. I have used the threat of violence to make neo-Nazis feel unsafe. I don’t regret it. We all watched with glee the film of the Antifa soldier punching the pasty privileged face of the Nazi. In our own ways, we must show the peddlers of division that they are not safe in our world, that we have learned from our bloody past. That their ideas make them the vulnerable minority. This is indeed the kind thing to do.

Still, when I have spoken calmly back to a person whom I wished to bludgeon, I was always glad I did. Through kindness, interpersonally and in our politics, we invite a world that is safer and better for everyone. In time, its people may even realize that bringing assault rifles to the park is silly. This takes courage. All forms of violence are tools for cowards. Good ideas don’t require enforcement at gunpoint. Oppression on the other hand, does. It’s up to us exhibit our trust in the world we want, perhaps not the world that is.

We are the resistance, and a high calling it is.

With love,


(Photo Credit: Anna Klausman)

I, Thor Harris, am not an activist. This is no time for any of us to wait and see what happens. I am a percussionist and multi-instrumentalist. I play with Thor & Friends, Swans, Ben Frost, Bill Callahan, Adam Torres, Shearwater, Amanda Palmer, and others. I write bossy lists such as “How to Tour in a Band or Whatever” and “How to Live Like a King on Very Little.” I also talk openly about depression. I’m pretty good at Twitter.