It was my senior labmate`s birthday last week. On her Facebook timeline, her grandmother-in-law complimented her as a “loving, caring, compassionate, sweet woman”, while her husband wrote that she is “the best wife [he has].”
this “loving” woman would chase a janitorial staff down the hallway to carp on the latter’s cleaning job;
this “caring” woman would openly criticize about how the janitors were all just “getting paid and not doing their job”;
this “compassionate” woman would refuse to stay beyond 4:30/5pm to talk to the custodian staff in person;
this “sweet” woman would leave multiple notes around the lab to the cleaning staff demanding them to do extra work.
Because of her, the janitor lady broke down in tears and asked to be transferred out of our department.
Because of her, our lab area has become notorious amongst the janitors at our university for being the most problematic due to its complaint volume.
Because of her, the third custodian staff has been “rotated” off of our department.
The compliments on her Facebook wall are such a stark contrast that they seem to be almost – if I dare say it – hypocritical.
I have no doubt that the people who congratulated my senior labmate were genuine. For example, when her husband praised her as a “loving wife”, I do not doubt that she is one. Nor do I doubt the veracity of her relatives’ comments if they call her a good aunt, because I have seen her proudly show off the sweaters and gloves she knit for her nieces and nephews on Facebook on a regular basis.
To her family and friends, she is good and kind and funny and generous and overall, a great personality.
However, to the janitors in school, she is mean, vicious, critical, unappreciative and frankly, a dominating bully.
So, what exactly is she? Is she a good person or a bad person? I feel both warmed and chilled by the discrepancies. On one hand, I see someone whose harsh abuse reduced a poor, hardworking immigrant to tears. On the other, I see someone who is quick to buy Tim Horton’s steep tea for a labmate without asking to be repaid. She is not the first person I met in my life to show such differences – in fact, she is one of many, if not almost everyone I have known so far.
I can randomly take any person to illustrate the difference in conduct I observe. Take the aggressive male users from online dating websites for an example: This very same user who sent such appalling abuse to another female online may earlier just helped out at the local soup kitchen and was recognized by the volunteers to be a “generous soul”.
No, I am not talking about how everyone has two sides and can be both sincerely malicious and genuinely benevolent.
No, I am not talking about self-serving kindness in which people are only kind to achieve an end that is beneficial for the self.
I am talking about how a father who would tirelessly and tenderly look after his young daughter when she is sick would later swear at and kick the homeless man on the street who accidentally bumped into him.
I am talking about how a manager who would scream at her employees for messing up her coffee would go home to lavish affection on the three dogs and five cats she adopted from the animal shelter.
I am talking about how a grown man who would defend his teenage sister when she gets bullied in school but would not think twice to objectify her physically attractive friend and talk to her inappropriately.
I am talking about how a woman who would spit in clients’ food orders because she dislikes the job yet would sacrifice her spare time to cook and feed her grandfather who has dementia.
I am talking about how a couple who love each other so insanely and passionately that they would jump in front of the bus for each other despite never considering to donate a pint of blood to help the critically-injured.
To me, this conduct spells out selective treatment when we treat one individual differently than the other.
To me, this behavior expresses a form of bias/prejudice when we favor one and are against the other.
To me, this is flat-out discrimination when we choose to withhold kindness for some but not others.
Discrimination is defined as being partial towards a person or thing based on anything other than individual merit.
How is this not discrimination when we choose actively to reserve our kindness when we “feel like it” or only for those we like, we care about, we can gain from, we want to impress, etc.?
Why is there discrimination even in kindness too?
Perhaps these are too extreme examples, but we can see such discrimination at work in everyday situations as well. For example:
When we would not hesitate to shell out hundreds of dollars to buy that pair of Gucci sunglasses for our loved one’s birthday but would be reluctant to give $30 to support a destitute child’s living expenses for a month.
When we would purchase expensive organic fruits and vegetables and spend hours laboriously cooking up healthy, nutritious meals for our family but would only buy the cheapest, generic brand processed foods to bring to our neighbor’s housewarming party.
When we would comfort our friends in distress but turn a blind eye to the colleague who is being harassed by the people in the office.
When we would be considerate and respectful tourists at a national monument and then turn around and not bat even an eye to dump our extra home waste in the public garbage open to foraging and curious animals?
When we would be quick to join the public campaign in supporting gender equality but continue to buy cheap meats we know that are not humanely sourced and produced?
Whereas we are kind towards some people, we can be passive, unkind or even cruel to others. This is discrimination, and it has become so natural and normalized in our society that we hardly notice it. This is what makes the same “loving, caring, compassionate, sweet woman” to be mean, rude, abrasive and cold to another. This is why she can still be seen as a “loving, caring, compassionate, sweet woman” despite helping to drive away three janitors. This is how, regardless of what she has done on the side, my senior labmate is still a “loving, caring, compassionate, sweet woman”.
Not only do we discriminate in our kindness to others, but we also practice second-class kindness when we give to others things that we would not use ourselves or treat others in a way not unkind but still not up to par to the way we would treat those we favour. Is it truly kindness when we only do so when it is convenient?
Is it true “kindness” to give away clothes to the poor that we ourselves would not deign to wear? Hey, it’s still good enough to wear. Beggars should not be choosers.
Is it true “kindness” to give food to the hungry that you would not think about letting enter your body? Junk food is still food. As long as you’re not hungry, that’s all it matters.
Is it true “kindness” to dump all your spare change into a homeless person’s cup because you did not feel like carrying them around or, worse, because they are too dirty and you do not want your hands to be soiled? One man’s waste is another man’s treasure!
I am not condemning the acts of giving to others what you do not need or use, because it is a helpful act that benefits those who can put otherwise-would-be-thrown-away things into good use. Rather, I am simply saying that I do not believe in giving “kindness” labels to acts of convenience or acts done with an attitude of pride – that is, when you are doing .
I feel so ambivalent when I see these “acts of kindness”, and it is a source of tremendous confusion and deep contemplation for me. Why are people so inconsistent from one situation to the next, from one person to the next, even in new situations and with strangers? Why is it still considered “acts of kindness” when they are done out of convenience or when the doers would not want to be on the receiving end of these “acts” themselves?
I see, feel and cry injustice for this type of behavior, yet I also am very much aware that I am not completely immune to the vices I have so far observed. In fact, while I seem to be pointing fingers, most of them are directed at me. Although I have not been unkind or cruel (or at least I hope, otherwise I have been too ignorant of my own misdoings!), if I am to be brutally honest, there were times when I have also been guilty in reserving my kindness for those whom I favour, or when the act of kindness is not inconvenient for me:
I remember when I was moving and organizing my pantry, I discovered items here and there I acquired to make lunches for K. and Anthony. I would lovingly make delicious and exotic dishes foreign to their tastes yet surprisingly still health-conscious, but too lazy to make even a simple yakisoba for the department social.
I remember coming out of the grocery store with my bag full of name-brand food and feeling guilty when I did not even pause to spare an item to the needy man begging on the streets. While it was true that I did not have any cash on me, nor were any of the things in my bag edible as is, I could very well have gone back to the store to buy a ready-to-eat hot dinner item to give to him, My conscience nagged at me but I went on to carry the groceries home to make French onion bread for my colleagues at work (ironically, most of them preferred generic-brand fruit gummies than healthy artisan bread).
I remember back in high school chasing down a girl I barely know across the field to bring her tissues when I saw her crying in the rain only to go home and become mad at my brother for eating my share of the dessert.
I remember taking care to help out a senior Christian friend I met on the bus but failing to be solicitous about my grandfather’s health when he was suffering from toothache.
Yes, I discriminated too. I also confess that I cannot guarantee I will never do it again in the future. It is very difficult to be completely fair and I do not know if I can ever be truly be impartial when extending kindness to others. My love for Anthony, for example, is partial towards him. My love for him burns so truly that not even human vices and worldly obstacles could diminish it. If ever he loses his model looks and becomes grotesque in figure, I will still shower him with physical affections. If ever he becomes bedridden or disabled, I will take care of him. If ever the world turns their back on him, I will still be at his side. Against all odds, I still believe in him and love him with a compassion that I never knew I had in me. I cannot say I could completely do the same for another person (nor do I ever want to, to be absolutely truthful, even not in a romantic capacity), but I do know that I cannot, in fair conscience, singularly devote whatever good that is still left in me all to Anthony alone. I want a more selfless kind of love. I want to practice consistency and fairness in kindness. More importantly, I want to be willingly kind in an automatic way without suffering some kind of emotional distress or even regret afterward (because somehow I feel like it is a signal of selfishness). I am hoping that with practice, it would become easier.
In this past month alone, I have donated my hair to the cancer society, bought food I would usually be too stingy to buy for even myself to give to the homeless, and gave away good food that I could have eaten myself when I was very hungry. I am not 100% free of reluctance yet. For one, every time when I see my flat and boyish haircut now I feel unattractive, but I do not regret the decision to donate my hair.
I recall from the Bible how Jesus does not withhold His love for any one individual, or any one group, but all of humanity. His grace and kindness extend to all, regardless of status, past/current deeds and conditions. He does not give pardon to only those who followed Him, but all who asked. His kindness is consistent and does not waver from one person to the next. He willingly died in the most horrific way by crucification for every living soul, and not just one person. I know I will never compare to Jesus in His all-encompassing kindness, but I do have hope that with this understanding and reflection I would be able to make into a habit practicing equality in kindness 🙂
*Note: I feel that I sound like some kind of a self-righteous martyr and that some of the things I impose on myself is a bit extreme, but I’d rather have lofty goals and strive for them than be content and get lazy (because I most likely will get lazy if I do not be this strict on myself, >.<) Writing this post and expressing such a critical tone felt very aversive, but I needed to go through this in the hope that it would help me mature and learn how to make myself better able to help others.*