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Definitions, and Comment:
Being a Description of the World

By Eli Siegel
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Kindness

Kindness is that in a self which wants other things to be rightly pleased.

     For a thing to be able to be what it wants to be, and do what it wants to do, is for that thing to be strong. A person is kind who feels a sense of likeness to other things; who accepts accurately his relation to other things.

      A person, moreover, wants himself to be pleased. In doing so, he is aware, in some way, both of himself and other things. If he has the organic feeling that the being pleased of other things is the being pleased of himself, he is kind. For kindness, in human terms, is the acceptance of a relation with other selves and the wishing to make that relation as complete and as right as possible.

      A person has the problem of pleasing part of himself immediately at the expense of his whole self, or pleasing his whole self, though part of himself will feel, for the time, pained. This problem can be otherwise stated as pleasing himself but not strengthening himself, or strengthening himself and perhaps not pleasing part of himself immediately.

      This problem also exists with other people. We can please another immediately, and not strengthen that other; or our big desire may be to strengthen the other and so please him, even though the being pleased is not seen.

      To be for another person's weakness, is unkindness. For the desire of each person as a whole, is to be himself with the utmost change. Where in pleasing a person we do not think of his deepest desire, we are not for that person.

      So, to be kind is honestly to think of what another person, or other persons, truly desire. If we do not take the trouble to find this out, or do not want to take the trouble, our "kindness" is so much not kindness.

      It is, of course, easy pompously to impose what we think is their desire on other people. This pompous imposition of desire arises from insufficient knowledge.

      It follows that to be kind, we must have the imagination arising from the knowledge of feelings had by others. This knowledge comes from the seeing of ourselves as like other people, while humbly recognizing that there is otherness, too.

      Kindness is infinite. There should be a continuity in the right feeling we may have to a person we meet in a grocery store with the feeling we should have to all the people of China and the people who may live ninety-five years from now.

     Kindness is accuracy; for to please a person where he does not deserve it, is hurting him; and not to please a person when he deserves it, is hardly commendable, either. Where kindness is sacrifice, lavishness, gush, it very clearly is also unkindness; and where kindness cannot be justified as a theorem might be, it is also that much lacking.

     We can be kind to things, too. To see a thing as beautiful when it is beautiful, is to be kind to it. To know a thing as it is, is to give it its due; and that is kindness, also. To neglect things, not to want to know them, not to see them as beautiful or as having meaning when they have, is to be unkind.

     There is a something meaningful in the wish of the God of the Bible to be known and loved. One might expect that being God, this would not interest him. The request or the order of God that he be known and loved, was the saying that not to know and love him was unjust or unkind. A God that needs our love, needs our kindness. Reality needs kindness. We give it by knowing it: for a thing unknown is a thing neglected, dealt with badly.

 

© 1945 by Eli Siegel

 

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