You do not deserve my kindness

You have not earned it. You aren’t special enough, or smart enough, or good enough, or needy enough, or pitiable enough to have extracted it from me. I do not like you enough to be kind to you, and there’s nothing you could do to change that. I am not so better off than you that I feel compelled to be kind, or so worse off that I feel compelled to curry your favor.

I have no duty to treat you with kindness or respect. I have no obligation to care about your wellbeing. I needn’t imagine your needs or endeavor to meet them. No logic demands that I concern myself with you at all. No commandment from on high stops me being a solipsist.

So know that when my hand reaches for yours, it’s because I chose it. You have not bought my care with your merit or your need. You haven’t earned it by being likeable or by being kind yourself. You have done nothing — could do nothing, need do nothing — to make yourself worthy of my regard. Know that if I have helped you, it’s because it was within my power and you were within my reach, and because that’s the kind of person I’ve chosen to be.

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The gulf between the self and the Other may be unbridgeable, but that doesn’t mean we stop reaching.

Know also that if I have withheld my help or my kindness from you, it’s for one of two reasons: (1) I’ve made that choice about the kind of person I’m going to be, or (2) I’ve made a different choice but failed to live up to my own ideals. You do not deserve — you could not earn — my cruelty or my disregard or my indifference. You have not lost my kindness by not being worthy of it. If I did not reduce your suffering when I was able — if you were within my reach and my grasp and I failed to embrace you — that is a measure and a declaration of my character, not of yours.

I don’t deserve your kindness, either. There’s nothing I can do to earn it. I can’t be smart enough, or good enough, or strong or weak or kind or needy enough, to be entitled to your regard. But I’m asking for it all the same. I hope you’ll be thoughtful about the kind of person you want to be, and that we’ll both do our utmost to live up to those ideals.

At the end of the day, there’s really just one moral demand we can make of ourselves and each other: to expand our reach, to strengthen our grasp. And to choose.

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