Monday, July 23, 2007

Melancholy Monday: On Kindness

My husband, Za, is a kinder person than I am. He prioritizes harmony over justice. I am the exact opposite. I cannot fathom the possibility of harmony if I believe an injustice has been committed. I am hard. And for years, I thought this made me tough, formidable, and reliable. I value friendship intensely, especially loyal friends and when people have committed (what I consider to be) immoral or just plain thoughtless acts, I am slow to forgive. Za, on the other hand, possesses one of the best traits of the aristocratic values that Nietzsche describes in the Geneaology of Morals: he easily forgets. Therefore, he does not lie in wait for the perfect moment to exact revenge; he does not carry with him bile and rancor towards those who have hurt him. He is not a pushover either; he is selective about who he will let get close to him, and if someone has really crossed the line (which takes a lot) he will not let such a person in anymore.

I tend to feel more white hot righteous anger. I am completely affronted by the mean things people do, especially if it is motivated by their own weak ego. I have spent years trying to be more empathetic and caring toward others, especially those who have hurt me. I have made progress, but I am nowhere near where Za is.

It occurred to me to write about Za and his kindness today, because I have come to draw another melancholy lesson from his temperament.

It is better--morally better--to prioritize harmony over justice.

I used to think that the project of seeking harmony was weakness, was a failure to stand up to bullies. I was wrong. First of all, there is no possible way to stand up to bullies. Anytime you do, you further empower them. You give them precisely what they want: your attention. Furthermore, you show them that you are invested, you care. To seek harmony is to learn when to be silent, to withdraw, or disengage from an ugly dynamic. To seek harmony also requires an important kind of discernment: to know which actions from bullies cause irreparable damage and which will eventually fade into distant memory, leaving no serious mark. Za has that kind of discernment and I am learning how to pull back and assess an situation the way he does.

Seeking harmony over justice--something that surely Socrates never did--is the essence of true kindness.