cruel to be kind

Have you heard that phrase? Has anyone said it to you to justify their behaviour or words? Have you used it to explain why you acted or spoke in a certain way?

Apparently the phrase first appeared in Shakespeare’s Hamlet where he justifies cruel behaviour to prevent a greater harm. Nick Lowe released a song with that title in 1978:

Oh I can’t take another heartache
Though you say you’re my friend, I’m at my wit’s end
You say your love is bonafide, but that don’t coincide
With the things that you do
And when I ask you to be nice, you say

You’ve gotta be cruel to be kind, in the right measure
Cruel to be kind, it’s a very good sign
Cruel to be kind, means that I love you, baby
(You’ve gotta be cruel)
You gotta be cruel to be kind

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I sort of understand what’s going on here, but it seems to me that much of the time cruelty has none of the apparent moral high ground that is claimed by ‘cruel to be kind’, even if someone thinks that is the case. Most of the time it is ‘cruel to be cruel’, ‘cruel to diminish another’ or ‘cruel to make ourselves feel better’. You only have to look at the comments sections on websites to see that enacted time and time again. Personal, hurtful, racist and LGBT+phobic comments are poured out without mercy and without any thought of the impact on those who will read them. I don’t think I have ever considered such comments to be framed in a ‘cruel to be kind’ manner. There is no excuse for them.

I wonder what motivates anyone to think such things, never mind to write them and make them public. Is there a rage within that is like a petrol-soaked bonfire just waiting for something they consider to be incendiary to set it ablaze? What sort of distorted reality are such people inhabiting that they feel justified in being cruel to someone else? Does the internet and social media make people think that they have some sort of online invisibility cloak that means they don’t think anyone will know it was them, or perhaps the scale of the online world makes them think that their few words won’t matter? Is there a sense in which there is a ‘safety in numbers’ approach that if other people are writing such things then it must be okay, and like a wildebeest in a vast herd being hunted by lions, the chances of being caught are slim? Or is it something else? I don’t know the answer, perhaps it’s some or all of those in some sort of toxic cocktail of hateful vitriol.

Hmmm, I seem to have got slightly off topic! Back soon to ‘cruel to be kind’… but the reason for the detour is to emphasise how easily ‘cruel to be kind’ can lose any sort of moral justification (and also, if I am honest, to ‘vent’). ‘Cruel’ always has the propensity for violence and to overshadow or blot out ‘kind’.

The idea is that to prevent greater harm you have to inflict some lesser harm. I suppose it’s a bit like someone who pushes another person over (causing them to experience cuts and bruises) so that they are not flattened by a runaway bus hurtling down the hill. I get that. But in that case there is an urgency to the action which requires the rough intervention. How many times when someone is ‘cruel to be kind’ is there that sort of urgency?

In Hamlet, the eponymous lead character is unkind to his mother in order to dissuade her from a course of action that he considers to be dishonourable. (Follow the link for a more considered analysis). But can a good motive redeem a bad action in this case? ‘Cruel to be kind’ may be an attempt to excuse a lazy response to something that we think could be improved. I may be wrong here but it seems to me that there is almost always a ‘kind to be kind’ option if we look hard enough for it. It may take more thought. It may be more difficult. It may take greater empathy and patience. But ‘kind to be kind’ must surely be possible, mustn’t it?

An example I came across may serve to illustrate what I mean. Someone was suggesting that direct criticism is good, albeit painful to receive, as it enables the person to have a clearer understanding of their performance and thus motivate them to improve (eg a sports coach). But isn’t a kinder approach (assuming the person wants to receive any sort of assessment) to offer feedback that accentuates positives and seeks to build on them and at the same time recognises what needs to be improved – offering practical steps and support to help the person to improve?

In the Bible ‘kindness’ is listed as one of the qualities that God’s Spirit grows in people, especially those who are looking for them to grow in them. ‘Cruelty’ is never listed as such a quality.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

fruity

Recent tragic events where high profile people have taken their life or had their reputation destroyed, and the ‘abdication’ of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, have brought into the spotlight issues about kindness.

One of the issues is how people use social media. A response to these events that has grown from the general public has been a rise in awareness of the need for kindness. I have been tempted for a while to unsubscribe from some of the social media sites I use because of the abusive nature of some of the comments and the apparent inability or unwillingness of the social media companies to monitor and clamp down on this. I find it abhorrent how some people feel justified in writing hideous things about other people, often only known to them by their public reputation, and can’t begin to understand how painful and hurtful it must be to be on the receiving end of this. (I have not left yet because I feel it is important to try to be a positive influence in the cesspool* of hatred, trying to write positive words of encouragement in the face of the abuse.)

And I almost weep as I write this, but Christians can be some of the worst in being judgmental and condemning others who hold different views to them. How that fits with Jesus saying that people will know that we are his followers if we love one another I don’t know.

Of course it’s not just social media. Look again at how the mainstream media treat people in the public gaze. Every so often when there is a tragedy or they get caught being unethical or illegal they talk about self-regulation and not being intrusive into people’s lives but it seems that they can’t help themselves and before you know it they have crept back into their old ways. And we (the general public) encourage them. If people didn’t buy the newspapers or watch the TV programmes they would either have to change their ways or fade into obscurity, but we fuel their intrusive, abusive and accusative approach to ‘journalism’ by avidly consuming what is presented to us.

It strikes me that recent the call for kindness may be tapping into something that is in the heart of human consciousness. I think it’s part of the way that God put us together – a glimpse of his nature inherent within us. And it’s something the Bible talks about, and which God’s Spirit cultivates within us if we seek it, nurture it and practice it (in Galatians 5, NIVUK):

22 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance [patience], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

I don’t think we can generate these things on our own. We need to seek the help of the One who created them. Pray that these things would become hallmarks of who you are. And if you are a follower of Jesus think about your social media profile and see how much of that fruit is evident…

But we can’t leave it to him either. Find ways of doing these things and you will find that they grow faster within you – God’s Spirit will have fertile soil to do his work. And notice that all of them are for the benefit of others (in part or in whole). They are not much good to us if we are not in relationships with other people. But other people will be blessed if we bear that fruit.

And I may be a bit ideological here but what if we all bear more of that fruit, even just a little bit? How much more like heaven on earth will our existence be?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*If you think I am being melodramatic or overly critical here, just read some of the comments below almost any news article online or when a high profile person makes a mistake.

words

a long time ago in Croatia…

Warm air has been flowing up and over cold air and the water vapour from the warm air has super-cooled to form tiny ice particles, which have been precipitated across our part of the country.

It has snowed.

This morning my wife and I coordinated 34 facial muscles and 112 postural muscles, particularly the orbicularis oris muscles, and applied our lips together in an embrace to signify our affection at a moment of separation.

We kissed goodbye.

Isn’t it wonderful how we can say the same thing in different ways. In both cases above both statements are correct (I think) but they tell us different things.

We use language differently on different occasions. You may want to communicate a technical description of snowfall or a kiss. Or you may simply want to state what happened without the technical specifications.

We sometimes commend people for ‘calling a spade a spade’ (as opposed to a hand-held manual soil redistribution implement). Sometimes that is necessary. But sometimes we need to be a little bit more circumspect. We need to be gentle with our words. We might sometimes withhold a piece of information because we know it will upset someone, or we might explain a situation with a lot more words than usual because we want someone to understand all the circumstances rather than the plain facts.

‘I punched him in the stomach’ may be factually correct. But if we knew that the circumstances were that the ‘victim’ was choking on something and by punching them in the stomach we dislodged the obstruction it takes on a very different complexion. (Yes, I know the Heimlich manoeuvre is recommended in those circumstances).

When I look at Jesus he was fairly straight talking. Especially when he wanted people to understand the truth that was contrary to their previously-held assumptions. Or if he was correcting the abuses of the religious elite (Ministers and Vicars should always be especially wary). But he also demonstrated compassion.

I hear a gentle tone in his voice as he corrects Martha when she had a go at her sister for not helping her with getting the meal ready.

I hear compassion as he is reinstating Peter after breakfast on the beach.

I sense incredible gentleness as he asks John to take care of his mother, even as Jesus is dying on the cross.

As followers of Jesus and free samples of him to others, let’s try to ensure that we don’t only speak truthfully, but that we also speak lovingly. And I reckon if there is any conflict between the two, love wins.

Be blessed, be a blessing

Apparently women think dogs are better than men:

Dogs don’t have problems expressing affection in public.
Dogs miss you when you are gone.
Dogs are very direct about wanting to go out. 
Dogs mean it when they kiss you. 
When dogs play “fetch”, they don’t laugh at how you throw.
Dogs understand if some of their friends aren’t allowed to come inside.

You can train a dog.