I was chatting with my daughter last night about her plan to visit a friend in Australia this summer. "People there are wicked nice," she said. And she told me about Americans she had heard of who went for a visit and never came back. And then she said, "I don't like people who are too nice."
The whole conversation was a bit too speculative and broad-brush for me, but it was fun to natter along. And it made me think ....
Kind people and unkind people suffer from the same difficulty. Both can imagine there is someone else on whom to work their will. And both can become wounded and enraged when the world does not see things their way. Kind people seek out (and are resentful when they don't get) thanks and agreement. Unkind people seek out acknowledgment and accolades for their powers.
As a social compromise, kindness in the form of altruism is the less unpleasant course. But that doesn't change the problem. And when has compromise ever eased or accorded with the uncompromised and uncompromising liveliness of this life? Social compromise is nice -- there are even institutions that make a profession of it -- but the question remains, is it true?
Is it true that there is someone or something else on which kindness might be lavished?
Is it true that there is someone or something else on which unkindness might be heaped?
Is it true that there is a peaceful satisfaction in either approach?
The only way I can figure that anyone might find a peaceful resolution to such questions is to investigate their own choices. Is it enough to be unkind or kind? Is applause or lack of applause enough?
Investigate ... assuming anyone has the luck or nerve: Be as kind as you like, but don't get tricked. Be -- if you must -- as unkind as you insist on being, but don't get tricked. Look into things. Don't be half-baked about it.
Once upon a time, when I read a lot of books, I realized at some point that I enjoyed novels whose equation might be stated as, "Good plus bad equals good." Willa Cather and Leo Tolstoy come to mind, but there were plenty of others whose words convinced me as well.
There is some way, I imagine, that kind and unkind, once investigated, lead to the same place. Others may call it "kind," but it is just kind... and there's no need to read a book about it.