What, Exactly, Is Kindness?


November 26, 2019-

Many years ago, I was present in a colleague’s classroom, when a distraught boy kicked and slammed a chair.  This was in the days when corporal punishment was still the norm, so it happened that my co-worker grabbed the boy’s arm and shook him, very hard. She told those of us who witnessed this, that he would remember this moment and be unlikely to repeat such a destructive behaviour.

I had my doubts about that, then, and still am doubtful.  The teacher has since passed on and the boy is now a 50-year-old man.  I have not seen him since I left the community where this took place.  He’s still up there, in that rural community, and I wonder if he remembers that incident.  I wonder how it affected his world view, and more directly, how it affected his raising of his own children.

I chose to physically punish my own child, prior to his adolescence, on a relatively few occasions.  None of those occasions saw me lose my self-control, yet I have often thought since, that there had to be better ways to correct his behaviour, than presenting myself as somehow more powerful, more dominant.

There was a song, in the late 1970’s, entitled “Cruel to Be Kind”.  While the songwriter included the phrase, “in the right measure”, I found myself disagreeing with the sentiment.  Nonetheless, there are occasions when, in order to save one’s own sanity and overall usefulness as a human being, it’s necessary to deny another person’s request.  None of us are perfect, after all, and there are times when a soul is unreasonable, in her/his expectations of others.  I dealt with such a person, four years ago; with another, last year and with yet a third, over the past weekend.  In each case, I was taking on a situation which would have been best handled by a team of people.  In the first instance, I was able to assemble such a group and the man lived his last years among us, in a fairly comfortable environment.  The other two- I was, and am, unable to help very much, as an individual.  Sometime, the issues are just too complex.

That said, there was also a time, six years ago, when I was the problematic one.  The person on whom I was fixated, handled the whole thing masterfully.  We reached a very quiet understanding,  and I made a promise that I have kept and will uphold for all eternity.  That person’s kindness has been a model for me, ever since.

Kindness, then, can assume many forms, though I daresay cruelty, in its true state, is never one of those forms.