I’m Not Very Kind, Either

July 29, 2013

This post first appeared in 2007 on my original Steve’s Not Nice blog on Blogger as part of a series on character. Now that I have integrated my blogs into one site here at Blazing Core, I am posting the series here.

This fellow that I knew for a while liked to tell people he was going to be “boldly honest” with them. He said it was an alternative to “brutally honest,” because he would tell truth that might be hard to hear but with good intentions. Unfortunately, one of the “boldly honest” things he said was that he no longer wanted to be a business partner with another man. This was less than two months after I paid the two men a lot of money to buy a share of their small business consulting firm. The existing accounts collapsed pretty quickly and my money went down the drain – boldly.

I like the idea of unabashed honesty. It appeals to the side of me that detests false praise, artificial sweetness, and glad-handing salesmen. It’s the voice of the little boy yelling, “The Emperor has no clothes!” It’s the voice of sanity and reason.

The fellow who wanted to be “boldly honest” claimed a distinction between honest statements that cause a lot of hurt compared to honest statements that are meant for good. I’m not convinced he was concerned with the good of others, but people were drawn in by his distinction.

Why? What is “brutally honest?” If the truth is so brutal that revealing it will cause pain, how should we judge withholding that truth? The problem is, most people won’t say the “brutally honest” thing to a person’s face, but they’ll say it to lots of other people behind their back. Is that nice? Is that kind? Is that a concern for the welfare of the person being talked about? I don’t think so. I think it’s just a shallow desire to be seen as “nice” plus a fear of confrontation. The motivation is self-interest. Self-interest is not kind, and it’s not even nice.

Scott Peck has written a lot about love in his books, most notably The Road Less Traveled. He doesn’t define love as emotion or affection. He says love is actively committing to the good of another person, most specifically that person’s psychological and spiritual growth.

This leads me to the very difficult realization that sometimes I have to tell someone a difficult truth because it is in that person’s best interest. It will contribute to that person’s growth. Withholding the comments will help the person stay stuck in some problem.

There’s an even more difficult realization. Sometimes the motivation to tell the other person the hard truth, the temptation to be “brutally honest,” is not to help or improve or do anything positive. It’s to vindicate myself. It’s to complain about a really difficult situation and try to end it. It’s to get revenge.

Too often my concern with justice, or forgiveness, or compassion, or humility, or mercy has little to do with the greater good of another person. It’s usually about me trying to demand something for myself.

Cut me some slack.

Show a little mercy.

Treat me with justice so I don’t have to deal with the unfairness of life.

Stop acting like you’re better than everyone else, because you’re pushing my own shame buttons.

I’m a mess!

I’ve already said I’m not nice. I don’t really want to be. I want to be kind. Unfortunately, I’m not very kind, either.

Kindness is my goal. It will be for the rest of my life, and it’s never going to get easy or boring.

Kindness is the balance of these many values in harmony. A key component of active love, kindness works for the good of others. As hospitality it offers shelter, and food, and clothing, and a warm fire. As consideration it is the small favor I did not even know I needed. As encouragement it is the gentle smile of comfort when I am in turmoil. As friendship kindness helps me see my own limitations and to forgive myself. As the bestowing of dignity it inspires me to look at a person’s heart instead of the mess he has made. It humbles me when I receive it and it fortifies me when I give it. It is the foundation of any lasting relationship.

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