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Being just as kind behind one's back as to one's face
Chip, I applaud you for holding us to the highest standard -- viz.,
kindness in every setting, public and private. I often lapse but
nevertheless embrace the spiritual discipline of trying to respect persons
in their absence as much as when I am present with them. Pray for me in
What we say to a person directly still needs to be quite different from
the wording we might say when the person is not present. Kindness often
dictates gentler presentation of criticism when we are speaking to the
person directly or speaking about the person in public space. We could
not be good parents if we spoke only as if our children were always
present. We cannot be good friends if we speak only as if our friends are
always present. That is why eavesdroppers rarely hear good of themselves.
"Louie is beginning to look like a fat pig" is not nearly so harsh or
judgmental said when not intended for me to hear as it is if someone says
directly "Louie, you look like a fat pig." The former can be an expression
of genuine concern, the latter seems a direct attempt to hurt, at least by
American middleclass norms.
Norms for how much candor in public or private discourse is acceptable
shift from region to region and from culture to culture. My Cantonese
professor told me that in her culture, it is quite acceptable (i.e., not
unkind) in professional settings to say "Fat pig just left the room," and
she prefers the Cantonese norms to those of the British colonial culture.
She relishes the Cantonese model for its candor and vitality, and for her
the colonial model lacks genuineness, or at least makes what is genuine
very difficult to access.
We Suthunahs could cite numerous examples about how Yankees differ from us
on some of these same norms. They are always saying things in ways that
we would nevah say them.
Sometimes class also dictates norms. One of my favorite professors at
Baylor used to say often, "Don't ever ask a gentleman to evaluate something
for he can only say, 'It's nice.'"
In my own struggles to kindness, I often find it more important to cleanse
my heart than to wash out my mouth with soap of the day.