Being Kind

My only real goal in life is to be kind.

This doesn’t come very naturally to me. I’m not sure it does to anyone.

I suppose it’s difficult to define what being kind is, but I think we have to take it to be axiomatic that causing suffering for trivial reasons is unkind. But then we have to define what causing suffering is, and what is trivial.

Is it unkind to cause distress to right-wing christians by making them tolerate same-sex relationships in their town? I think we need to ascertain what freedoms they have to forego in order that others are not limited. In this instance, their own relationship choices are not being limited. They do seem to be genuinely distressed by the relationship choices of others, but I don’t think anyone has a right not to be offended. I am offended by almost everything, but I abhor censorship. At what point does it become unreasonable to express one’s views?

I think it is perfectly reasonable to limit people’s choices when those choices are causing harm to others. My choice to run over someone because it amuses me is a freedom that should be curtailed. When the harm caused is more subtle and insidious, then it becomes difficult to say what behaviours should be curtailed. Ideally, I would like to say all speech should be free speech, and that people should not be stopped from airing their views, no matter how offensive they are.

I realise this becomes difficult in practice. If someone is allowed to put up posters saying “All Women are Whores” or “I Hate Foreigners”, ideally this free speech should be allowed, but it makes for a hostile environment for the targets of these campaigns, and history has shown all too often how this sort of speech, when put forward convincingly and charismatically enough, can lead to very real threats and actions. It might be tolerable when it is the raving of one bigot, but what about when it becomes mainstream opinion, and manifests itself in public policy and law.

I don’t consider myself a utilitarian, firstly because I think this could allow 49% of the population to suffer so that 51% may be content, and secondly, because I’m shit at philosophy and I don’t really understand the terminology or underlying ideas.

I’m basically trying to pick through my behaviour, and hone my sense of what is moral. The best way I can do this, is to try to weigh up what I am getting out of exhibiting certain behaviours, and what that costs others. I am trying to think critically about how my choices affect people; I know that I often make others uncomfortable or even distressed when I point out that I believe they are causing harm. Is this unkind, and is it worth it for the greater good? I think the equation becomes more complex when we factor in the strengths of those who stand to gain or lose from having their choices limited. I tend to come down on the side of the underdog, and I believe that the more vulnerable the individual concerned, the more strongly their interests should be represented, as they are at a disadvantage.

The hegemon is better equipped to make sacrifices, and if we have to be unkind to someone who has everything in their favour to afford compassion to those most vulnerable to mistreatment and exploitation, then that is probably the kindest thing to do.

The lucky and the powerful will have to come down a few rungs to meet the rest of us half way.


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