Kindness & hypocrisy
This piece was written as a result of a story told me by my dear colleague Loes Veldpaus
If I am kind to a person I don't much like, or even positively dislike, am I being hypocritical?
Before I answer this question with a yes or a no, I must be certain that, in being kind, I am understood to be properly so. For the sake of our sanity we must confine this argument to the subject of genuine kindness, the proper virtue as exhibited in a willingness to greet, to be helpful and attentive, to see the best in people and interpret events sincerely and, if at all possible, in a cautiously positive way. My describing ‘being kind’ as being kind precludes forms of false kindness such as flattery, ingratiating behaviour, sycophancy, obsequiousness, fawning sliminess etc.
It is then important to decide who this kindness reflects upon. Kindness is helpful to those we are kind to, but kindness does not reflect upon them, unless perhaps they make it easy or difficult to be kind to, by being kind or unkind themselves. Even so, my kindness, however easy or difficult, can surely only reflect upon me and not upon the person I am being kind to.
My dislike of this other person also reflects upon me and not upon that person even though I may have good reason to dislike him or her. However, I may just as easily have really bad reasons to dislike someone, without this fact affecting the very real dislike I might feel. In the case of racism, mysogyny and xenophobia for instance, I dislike people without even knowing them! I dislike them because they represent something to me that I dislike. Therefore, whatever the circumstances and however understandable an unkind act might be, being unkind to others, even to those you do not like, makes me unkind and no one else.
But does it make me hypocritical? Is it necessarily hypocritical to be kind to those you dislike, or are there considerations and conditions that might cause being kind to those you do not like to be sincere and genuine? First of all we need to know why it might be hypocritical to be kind to those we dislike. I am not at all sure I can explain that. Nor am I convinced that this is in fact the case. It would be hypocritical to pretend you like someone when you in fact do not. That is straightforwardly hypocritical. In so far as kindness is a sign of liking someone, this might become an issue and cause one to be ‘obliquely’ or ‘indirectly’ hypocritical. But is being kind to someone necessarily a sign of liking that someone? I would dispute this. It is true that being kind to someone can be, and often is, taken as a sign that one likes that person, after all kindness is a likeable trait and it is hard to be kind to someone you dislike. But kindness need not be meant as as a sign of liking someone. I may of course abuse this tendency or habit people have to jump to conclusions and use my kindness to raise a false impression with the person I am being kind to. But then I am not being genuinely kind, I am being merely ingratiating, raising a false impression. How to tell the difference from the outside is not my concern here, but we decided to exclude such considerations from the argument.
My reason to be kind to people might however be informed by very different motives. I might want to be thought of as a kind person. I might just enjoy being kind. After all, a virtue is its own reward and being kind is a good reward for being kind. I might believe that one's likes and dislikes should not interfere with a greater duty to treat others kindly, regardless of one’s predisposition towards them. Liking is after all not the same as being kind, which is why being falsely kind to someone one dislikes can only be described as obliquely hypocritical. And yet we acknowledge that being kind is a sign of affinity or affection. But to whom is this affection directed? To the person you are being kind to? Perhaps, but not necessarily; the affection might well be directed to principles and duties that transcend any personal relationship, such as one’s duty to God, to one’s beliefs and view of the world and humnity.
Perhaps we should turn the question around. What does the judgment that being kind to those one dislikes is hypocritical say about the judge? Is that judge lacking in such principles; has he or she given in to cynicism? Ask her.
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