When it Comes to Being Good, the Devil’s in the Detail

When kindness is self-serving, honesty is brutality, and sympathy comes with a dollop of heavy judgement…

Angela Volkov
Nov 29, 2020 · 4 min read

As a society, we tend to admire the mighty over the meritorious. The wealthy, powerful, and genetically-blessed provoke our envy, and thus we put them on pedestal —one that’s often unwarranted by their character.

However, even when it comes to goodness, we are often fooled by flashy gestures and wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Beware those who…

Are honest… because they lack restraint

“People who are brutally honest generally enjoy the brutality more than the honesty.” — Richard Needham

Honest people are a rare gift, you’ll always know exactly where you stand with them. They are honest about what they want, and what they want from you. They don’t cower before confrontation; they’ll never phase out of a friendship or ghost you after a date to spare themselves minor discomfort at the price of your pain and confusion.

Their honesty isn’t a tight-lipped one either, after all, it’s easy to be honest when you never share anything much. Such people understand trust is earned incrementally and cannot be cemented by declaring “I’m a very honest person” without offering a shred of proof. Their word is their bond, easily verifiable, and always consistent with their actions.

They don’t use honesty as an excuse, proclaiming themselves a “pussy”, “bitch”, or “arsehole” to absolve themselves of all responsibility, all the while exploiting your tendency to see the good in people and thus dismiss their remarks as hyperbole.

Nor do they view honesty as a cudgel rather than an olive branch. Such men and women temper honesty with restraint. They speak from a place of sincerity; when they’re upfront about their concerns their goal is to mend, not hurt. They always act in the spirit of the William Blake quote, “A truth that’s told with bad intent, beats all the lies you can invent”.

Are kind… as long as it doesn’t inconvenience them

I’ve met many a polite person and impeccably well-mannered person who was terribly unkind. Their politeness was icy and perfunctory, or else they wielded it like a weapon; their decorum yet another way to assert their superiority. Unfeeling, haughty automatons, or worse, people whose cruelty was cloaked by their social graces.

Picture the “magnanimous” mean girl who takes great pains to inform you that not only were you not invited to her soiree, but that this was done to spare you the embarrassment of appearing in last season’s dress. (I’ll take unvarnished rudeness over the crude patina of civility, any day. At least it doesn’t require you to be complicit in your own humiliation. At least it’s honest.)

Here’s another thing, if you hand a homeless person a submarine sandwich with one hand and record the interaction on your phone with the other— it’s not kindness, it’s exploitation. People who are genuinely kind wish to ease your burden, they certainly won’t add a millstone of guilt and shame to it, much less while filming you for social media cred.

Real kindness is not paint-by-numbers, it does not seek the limelight, and it’s never motivated by the prospect of adulation or glory. It’s thoughtful, subtle, and to an extent, selfless. Truly kind people know a good deed is its own reward, and, in fact, often comes at a cost to the giver.

Are liked by everyone… because they haven’t the courage for conviction

It’s easy to parrot whatever is in vogue to score brownie points. However, it’s better to think critically, and act morally. It’s harder to swim against the tide than get swept along with it. While most are busy chugging the Kool-Aid till they’re sweating it out of every pore, others are standing up for what’s right and reasonable even if it renders them unpopular.

People who have the courage to be disliked might not win your flighty affections, but they’ll secure my admiration. (Though I doubt they care to court it.)

Offer sympathy… with a heavy dollop of judgement

Many people will bite their tongue and offer you sympathy rather than a two-bit “solution” to shut you up. (“Tough day at work? You ought to do something as drastic as quit rather than vent to me about it.”) Everyone’s got the memo on that one, but some people take it further: they offer sympathy without judgement.

A good listener won’t invalidate your feelings. They won’t tell you you’re wrong to feel as you do, and they’ll acknowledge the harsh truth in your words — even if it’s the size of a grain of sand — rather than placating you with platitudes.

Treat strangers well… and their friends no better

When I lived in Japan, a classmate once gushed to me about my friend’s level of hospitality. Their mothers knew each other through work, so she invited him to her dorm and cooked him — what was to a college student — an extravagant dinner.

Though I echoed his sentiments, the more he praised her the colder it left me. It was dawning on me, the realisation that she kept everyone — even her closest friends — at arm’s length. She may have treated strangers well, but she treated friends no better.

If you enjoyed this article you might like my posts on Sike! Psychology for World Domination.

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Angela Volkov

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Glutting myself on all that life has to offer and writing about it. Art, language, science, humour, and whatever else takes my fancy…

The Slush Pile

Struggling to find a home for your writing? Want to brag about being accepted by a legit publication? Look no further than The Slush Pile!

Angela Volkov

Written by

Glutting myself on all that life has to offer and writing about it. Art, language, science, humour, and whatever else takes my fancy…

The Slush Pile

Struggling to find a home for your writing? Want to brag about being accepted by a legit publication? Look no further than The Slush Pile!

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