The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

What Happened to Kindness?

This is the time of year when many people talk about charity and kindness. Of course, talk is cheap.

I take the position that while kindness is a virtue, charity is not. But my reasoning for this is simple: virtues are open to all people equally. The ability to be charitable is not. Charity costs us something, kindness actually doesn’t cost anything or at most, very little. If giving to the poor is a virtue the poor are then excluded from the possibility of being virtuous. But everyone is capable of being kind, thus virtue is in all our reaches.

Yet, for some kindness seems much harder than charity.

Today I went grocery shopping and was looking for more of a particular product so I asked a staff member to see if they had more of it in the storage room. She came out and said it was under other items but she would ask someone to get it out for me. I thanked her. She sent a young man in to retrieve the items and I made sure to thank him with a bit of emphasis on the thanks. It brought a smile to his face.

That got me thinking. When checking out I thanked the cashier and the young woman doing the bagging. I noticed many customers didn’t even seem to notice them, they were on automatic pilot and kind words of thanks didn’t even come to mind.

I thought of a time I was walking into a local movie theater — in the pre-epidemic days — and a young man going in before me noticed I was behind, he stopped to hold the door open for me. Years later I still remember that act of kindness.

At my local store I was paying for my goods and started fishing for a quarter. I told the cashier I had a quarter so she wouldn’t make lots of change. The bag boy immediately smiles and says, “I’ve got a quarter” and insisted on paying it for me. Now, technically it cost him something but so little I consider it an act of kindness more than charity. But he seemed to happy to do it and I will remember that small act of kindness for the rest of my life.

Small things can bring so much happiness to people. There was a young man who frequently took my food order at a local fast food outlet. I had the suspicion he was a gay kid growing up in our very rural desert outpost.

One day I went in and the “line manager” was there while he was at the register taking orders. She was loud and somewhat crude I thought. She called him “Princess” and I saw him winch a bit. I was appalled and I thought he looked uncomfortable. He couldn’t say anything, she was his superior and I suspect he didn’t want to make trouble. It got worse because when she did this I could see other employees, mostly teens, all looked at her with discomfort as well.

She noticed that reaction and said, “Oh, it’s okay, Princess doesn’t mind. We’re friends, Aren’t we Princess?” She managed to work the term in several times to emphasize how her doing it was just fine. The young man just looked sadder to me.

I sat down and ate but before leaving got up and asked for the store manager. I quietly told the manager what this woman did to the young man and that she did it repeatedly. I said it was done loud enought for customers to hear and this was rude and bordered on harassment. The manager agreed.

I don’t know what happened after I left but I suspect the victim of the harassment figured out who went to the manager. The next time I came in he beamed when he saw me and immediately announced my order — he remembered what I liked — before I technically placed it. He was bit chatty with small talk but a very different, happier young man.

It cost nothing to be kind to him.

That is what amazes me about the hypocrisy of those who scream loudest about “the true meaning of Christmas.” They sing, “Joy to the World” and try to inflict misery, suffering and shame. They sing “Peace on earth, good will to men” and inflict conflict and think it’s the season to ramp up their culture war, which offers good will to no one. They brand simple politeness and kindness as “woke” and “politically correct.”

Kindness is in the grasps of anyone who wishes it. It doesn’t take a college education, a bank account, or special skills of any kind.

It’s often the simplest of things — a smile, a “thank you,” or just asking someone who looks to be in pain, if everything is all right and if you can be of help somehow. And horrors of horrors, it could be something as simple as using the pronoun of their choice.


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A blog for the Moorfield Storey Institute: a liberaltarian think tank.

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James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.