Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Worst Kind of Kindness

Me, immorally caressing the "forbidden" med cart at work (1987)
Something must be wrong with me. Not only am I not outraged by pretty much anything and everything that's wrong with society, I'm also not particularly inspired by what's right with it. I'm using the terms "wrong" and "right" loosely here, mostly because I'm not a big fan of society itself, just the individual human beings who comprise it. As someone who's always been attracted to what's considered immoral and degenerate, I don't really relate to society's mainstream. I'm much more moved by poetry than the random acts of kindness attracting the media's attention. Why is that?

I don't like the idea of anyone telling me how to live my life or how to be a better person. The notion that people can never be good or kind enough, that we always have to work on improving ourselves is a bunch of regret-engendering hooey. I'm already the person I want to be, always have been. I really can't think of anything worse than modeling myself according to someone else's principles. Self-righteousness has always rubbed me the wrong way. What I find particularly odd about most religions is how the prophets themselves were humble and self-effacing, whereas their disciples have taken themselves so seriously over time that killing in the name of God continues to be justified. Religion's problems are rooted in the concepts of God's kind mercy and forgiveness. Sounds good in theory, but in practice, not so much. The actual administration of God's kindness always seems to require a human intermediary who, more often than not, comes equipped with his or her own personal and repressive moral agenda. Since when do people need outside permission to be kind to themselves, accept themselves, and move on with life? 

Last night, Spartacus and I watched "The Godfather." I'd never seen it in its entirety before, and the one scene which really stood out was when Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) confided to his longtime girlfriend, Kay Adams (Diane Keaton) that, after a lifetime of resistance, he was now working for his mafioso father, Don Corleone (Marlon Brando). Unlike his brothers, Michael had shunned the family "business" in favor of a college education and military service. After his father was shot and seriously wounded by a rival mob family, Michael abandons his role as a civilian, eventually assuming leadership of the Corleones, all the while promising Kay that he'll make the family business legitimate within five years. Fully aware of the violent, criminal nature of Michael's new undertaking, Kay protests:

"But you're not like him, Michael. I thought you weren't going to become a man like your father. That's what you told me." 

The clarity of Michael's response is chilling. "My father's no different than any other powerful man, any man who's responsible for other people, like a senator or president." 

Shaking her head, Kay condescends, "Do you know how naïve you sound?"

Michael barely squeezes in "Why?" as Kay explains matter-of-factly, "Senators and presidents don't have men killed!"

Indeed, Kay, who's being naïve? As Lao-tzu once queried, "What is a bad man but a good man's teacher?" How is a president who wages war any different from a mob boss? Yet, society is pretty darn selective in making such distinctions, e.g. our current wars on terror and drugs. Isn't war a form of terror? So, we should fight terror with terror? Nothing about that reasoning makes sense to me, but by God, we're gonna prove we're the good guys if it means wiping out every last one of ya!  

Other than rendering a medical opinion in the patient care setting, I'm not too keen on giving or taking personal advice. I read a commencement speech this morning in which the author urged new college graduates to focus on becoming kinder and more loving, by "taking ourselves seriously – as doers, as accomplishers, as dreamers.  We have to do that, to be our best selves." Although I totally get where he's coming from and agree with the article's basic premise, I think this is terrible piece of advice. Why? Well, for starters, it's virtually impossible to act selflessly when you take yourself seriously. Also, the worst kind of kindness is that which comes from overthinking and moralizing it. It's unnatural and doesn't come from the heart. There's usually an element of expectation or reciprocation involved, as well as a desire for recognition, especially in those who do take themselves seriously. Finally, I don't even see how kindness itself is a moral issue; in fact, you could say that morals arise from a lack of goodness or kindness. I agree with Lao-tzu: "Perfect kindness acts without thinking of kindness." 

Going with the flow,  but not floating the mainstream, 1982

I'm not knocking kindness, just the way we value it as something otherworldly and extraordinary. True kindness is effortless and doesn't require any forethought. It's often overlooked. Thinking about kindness relegates acting kindly to the future, which seems like a waste of right now. Being kind happens naturally when people accept themselves as individual expressions of the universe, going with the flow, instead of floating the mainstream. All human beings are capable of it, without a third party assist.

See the world as your self.
Have faith in the way things are.
Love the world as your self; 
then you can care for all things.


  1. I've always been fascinated by Lao-tzu's magical musings Kris. True kindness is indeed effortless.


    1. I find myself leafing through the Tao Te Ching on a regular basis. It's full of cool surprises.

  2. I truly love the Godfather films and every so often I watch the whole set through. The mafia, La Cosa Nostra, The Mob, L'onorata societa etc still exist and don't mess around.

    Kindness can mean so many things to people. I believe some people are naturally kind, others learn how to be kind and a good selection of people act kind in order to get what they want or achieve a purpose. If it doesn't come from the heart then you need to question where on earth is it coming from and why. It's immoral to be unkind.

    When it comes to religion, I learned a long time ago to never ever allow another person to be in such a powerful position over me for any reason, even if they claimed the God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus told them so. My lessons were harsh and I almost lost every ounce of my faith because of it.

    I truly enjoyed reading this Helena, no surprises there :)

    1. RPD, I just had my piano tuned by a New Yorker whose father was involved in the mafia. He's met Carlo Gambino several times, and said he was the nicest man, that you'd never suspect he was a ruthless mob boss. What a strange connection so soon after seeing "The Godfather"! I also love the movie, "Goodfellas." It's in a similar vein. Kindness that's forced never feels genuine. Indeed, it has to come from the heart. Would love to see you do a post sometime about your personal experience with religion.

  3. I like what Rum Punch had to say. I also think that kindness comes naturally for some. For others, not so much. I do believe true kindness in others is evident, though. Those are the kind of acts I cherish for the true spirit they reveal in others. Great post!

    1. I agree, if you're not born with it, you can always develop a kind heart. It's never too late. Like Marty said in the BC discussion, kindness requires courage and looking past self-interest. It's a willingness to be vulnerable, to put yourself out there, and I think that's what makes acts of kindness something to cherish.

  4. Oh, bravo. There is nothing else to add.

  5. To me, kindness comes from the heart, not from an agenda. When I do things for others, whether in my volunteer work or any area of my life, it's because I care. And because I think putting that care into action just may make things better somehow. That's it. No mad attempt at power, religious control, or telling people how to live their lives. I'm boring that way :)
    And yes, love the Godfather.

    1. Gina, you're a great example of kindness in action. That's something I really appreciate about you, and the way you write your blog. Apparently, its mobweek on AMC, so tonight, we're watching The Godfather Part II :-)

  6. Hi Kris,
    Great post as always. I relate to your comments on the self-development industry (a 10 billion dollar industry Google tells me). They have no standards and are full of pseudo-scientific platitudes. Don't waste your money. My message is simple :- "think for yourself". If something makes sense to you then make sure you examine it well and reach your own conclusions. Now that can be said for Religion too. It's a whole lot bigger than a 10 billion industry, but it's more 'shot full of holes' than the self-development industry.

    A good example of this is that I read on the weekend, you can now go to "atheist yoga" and just do some stretches which are good for the body, without 'higher planes' 'beads' and 'gurus'. I have to ask, in conclusion, are you a piano player, or is it your musically talented boys?

    1. I've never heard of atheist yoga, but I'm really not surprised that it's come along. I don't think you can ever go wrong, thinking for yourself. As for the piano, I grew up playing piano quite seriously. Haven't played since young adulthood, and am now picking it back up. I'm surprised that I can still read music pretty well. I think I'm going to get myself a teacher, to help me out a bit with getting my chops back.

  7. I like your post, and agree that true kindness is effortless and natural.

    A long time ago on the way to India, I was sitting next to an Indian man on the airplane, and he asked me what religion I was. I said I didn't really have a religion, and he asked me "What keeps you from doing evil then?" I simply told "I don't do evil because I have no desire to."

    I do not want to hurt people because I share the pain of those around me, people who can not share others pain need to be kept in check by rules, but they are not really good people, no matter how they behave.

  8. True kindness is like sea. It surges and recedes, rages and lies flat and tranquil. Artificial kindness is like a man-made swimming pool that needs half naked bodies for its ripples.

    An honest and humbling outpouring.

  9. I see kindness is unconditioned love, to which Buddha means “Karuna.” I strongly believe that there is no such thing as right or wrong in absoluteness; they are meaningful only within the context. We should not stick to the letter of moral laws but its spirit which itself changes with context. If kindness is required to maintain peace then it is right and, if war is required to maintain peace then war is right.

    It reminds me of Judy Garland’s quote: “Always be first-rate version of yourself instead of a second rate version of somebody else.”

  10. Kris, I’m with you, self-righteousness has always rubbed me the wrong way too. Excellent point about religion. All this killing in the name of whatever God just makes no sense, and I agree that religion’s problems are rooted in their concept of God’s mercy and forgiveness. So many wars throughout history were started as the result of religious intolerance and self-righteousness.

    “The Godfather” is movie making at its best, great script and great acting. Been years since I’ve watched it but I remember that scene. There really is little difference between a president waging war and a mob boss. The "war on terror," "war on drugs," war on this and war on that, all absurd and just some politician’s way of appeasing the masses.

    Yes, the worst kind of kindness “comes from overthinking and moralizing.” I saw that kind of false kindness while growing up in the Catholic church. I love Lao-tsu’s quote on perfect kindness, and his poem at the end of your post. Real cute photos of you from ’82 and ’87!

    (Btw, I met a guy in New Jersey decades ago who claimed to be a nephew of Carlo Gambino. Well, his name was Gambino on his license and he was from New York, but I can’t confirm if he was related. He owned a used car business next to a house I was renting with one of my sisters. We dated a couple of times, real nice guy. I will say that waiters fell over themselves serving us at a fine Italian restaurant. Still can’t confirm he was actually a nephew of the mob boss but it was interesting!)

  11. Can I add something too :) ?

    Before being kind and doing kind things one should figure out what kindness is, 'cause many people are kidding themselves and pretend they're kind and everybody else is not. I get that our brains are differently wired but there are some notions, kindness among them, that should be understood by all in the same manner. Kindness to me became natural, I never liked being mean to someone, my good manners and empathy never allowed me to be mean, but seeing how many people are being mean around me to me and to others makes me hate humanity and regret I'm a human too, some people just live to be mean, they have no other reasons or motivation other than being despicable. Hope this made sense.

  12. I think that kindness comes from within. Kindness cannot be forced or commanded. One can learn kindness from observing others but kindness cannot be taught because only the individual has a true sense of kindness.

  13. Kris, a brave, marvelous post. I actually see it as a great hoot on behalf of personal freedom, rather than being about kindness. Helena's Declaration Of Independence from all presumed and imposed social rules and expectations. Your first two paragraphs say it all.

  14. excellent post kris! i totally agree. look at china, a country that moral teaching "thunders" all the time in schools or news, but what it does is just opposite.
    love "godfather". the third part rated much lower than previous two but i found it just as good. the end is stunningly powerful. one of the best movies all the time.

  15. Excellent insights. I am big into kindness in the form of empathy. If we feel, in the present moment, what others are feeling, kindness is natural as you say. The kindness is both genuine and spontaneous.

    Thanks for a great post,