On Kindness
November 4, 2014 11:19 AM   Subscribe

I am not kind. I'm one of the people Jefferson describes below:
Some people who have been baptized in familial and social rejection come to accept that rejection as a guiding principle for how to live life. It’s not how things should be, they may say, but it’s how things are—and anyone who doesn’t respond in kind is food for the sharks. These people swallow their pain and hold it in their guts, where it transforms into venom to be used to rebuff a world that’s done the same to them. I’ve met lots of people like this, and probably so have you: Adults who get mean around jock types who remind them of their high-school antagonists. Adults who are mean to everyone, because everyone was mean to them during those most fundamental years of their lives. It’s often difficult to be around these kinds of men and women, but ultimately it’s even more difficult to blame them.
While I'm not actively hostile any longer, I remain wary of others. I don't warm to strangers. I don't reach out and try to make friends. I'm not fun at parties, and I try to avoid attending parties whenever possible. The only reason I'm married is that my wife caught me off-guard.

I'm like a feral cat that picked one person and adopted them. It's too easy to just say to society at large, "You had no use for me then. I have no use for you now."
posted by starbreaker at 11:52 AM on November 4, 2014 [13 favorites]

"When I think of my mother’s life up to this point, what I find most revealing is how much of the abuse hurled at her throughout the years came about solely because she showed care and love to the wrong kinds of people. Time and again, it was her openness to others that found her shut off from her friends, her church, her colleagues, even her own family. We seem to reserve a special rage in this world for those whose ability to be unafraid in pursuit of something new extends beyond our own. We begrudge them their strange friends and strange experiences under the guise that we find those things to be dangerous or unclean. But really we resent those people because their courage reminds us of how common and terrified we feel inside. Bravery is a virtue people revere in dead soldiers and then turn to disparage in someone extending her hand to a weirdo."

This sums up the human mindset in lots of different situations.
posted by ChuckRamone at 12:06 PM on November 4, 2014 [10 favorites]

That was beautiful. Thank you for posting it.
posted by Dashy at 12:24 PM on November 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

How did it get so dusty in here? My monitor is blurry for some reason.
posted by mogget at 12:38 PM on November 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

Definitely would have enjoyed this piece more if the goddamn dust hadn't kept getting into my eyes.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 12:40 PM on November 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

He's spot-on when he talks about how it feels to watch a loved one suffer from something like breast cancer and not be able to do anything at all about it. It's hard not to feel like the universe is giving you the big middle finger and laughing at your impotent anger. The urge to take that anger out on those you come into contact with is overwhelming, but somehow I don't think he'll succumb.
posted by tommasz at 12:49 PM on November 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

It never fails to shock me just how radical society consider the idea that everyone should be treated with kindness and respect. The belief that everyone should be treated with humanity is not common.
posted by Gor-ella at 12:50 PM on November 4, 2014 [6 favorites]

Gor-ella wrote:
It never fails to shock me just how radical society consider the idea that everyone should be treated with kindness and respect. The belief that everyone should be treated with humanity is not common.
I think the problem is that we do treat most people with humanity — the wrong kind of humanity. Cruelty is no less human than kindness.
posted by starbreaker at 12:55 PM on November 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm currently trying to decide where I'd like to spend the final three years of my medical training, and while the programs are all similar academically the cultures within these programs differ profoundly. It's tough to assess the culture, especially if I'm only there for interview day. Ask anyone if they're kind and you'll only ever get one answer; ask them to tell you about the last patient that cussed them out, though, and you can find some truth.

I'm not a religious person, but I trained in a Catholic Worker clinic that taught me the clinical application of Matthew 25:40: "Inasmuch as ye have done it to one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it to me." The docs who treats the intoxicated homeless patient with the same respect as the millionaire donor are the ones who almost unfailingly demonstrate kindness in all their other relationships, professional and otherwise. These are the people I want as colleagues.

So at every interview I ask, "what did you do the last time a patient cussed you out?" And then I know who the kind ones are.
posted by The White Hat at 1:06 PM on November 4, 2014 [27 favorites]

Man, I sobbed reading this thing. Moms that give people a chance. Moms that give children a chance. They deserve better than life hands them, far, far too often.

(Love you, Mom! And Mr. Jefferson's Mom, you're cool too.)
posted by DigDoug at 1:18 PM on November 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

Your comment made me reread "A Painful Case," starbreaker.
posted by Diablevert at 2:12 PM on November 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

My family is currently fractured because a sibling with longstanding mental health issues is having another episode and some question my parents refusal to cut ties. The feeling of helplessness over a family member's struggles. Hearing the pain and frustration in my parents' voices. I fucking balled my eyes out reading this last night.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 3:07 PM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

oh god that chocolate genius song is literally the most heartbreaking and depressing song OF ALL TIME

i mean i love it

but you know
posted by liketitanic at 3:23 PM on November 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

The world takes from us relentlessly.
Sometimes when I find myself dealing with challenging situations or people the only idea which keeps me from giving up is the idea how everything is transitory.

I read about the wars, battles, great debates, and it reminds me that regardless of how terrible it seems right now it's not a prediction of the future.

Yes, I accept this is a horrible time but it won't always be the same because nothing ever is. Thanks for the article.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 3:46 PM on November 4, 2014

Sorry about that, Diablevert. I just read it for the first time because of your comment. I'll admit that had I done the "sensible" thing and refused to get involved in a long-distance relationship with a woman living in Australia, I might still be alone today fourteen years later. Instead, I celebrated my tenth wedding anniversary with her this past Halloween.
posted by starbreaker at 3:47 PM on November 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Nothing will make your life smaller and darker than clinging to hatred, the way her father did. All those precious years of his daughter's life lost to him, all knowledge of his grandson. You can win, in a fight like that. You can refuse to give in. But in the end, there you are on your deathbed with no memories of anything but hatred and rage to think about, leaving behind a binder of unanswered letters. Maybe that's why she kept reaching out. She saw that closing herself off was no guarantee of not being hurt, but that it did guarantee being alone.

And she does have some reward; a son who loves her and can write such beautiful things.
posted by emjaybee at 3:57 PM on November 4, 2014 [8 favorites]

That was beautiful and I need to reread it when I'm not crying so much.

Fuck cancer. Yay good moms.

Fuck cancer.
posted by Lexica at 8:58 PM on November 4, 2014

This made me think of my own (recently passed) mother, and made me weep. Great piece. Thank you for posting this...
posted by ivanthenotsoterrible at 9:54 PM on November 4, 2014

I'm on the bus, trying not to cry.
posted by entropone at 6:08 AM on November 5, 2014

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