The central family value
For some reason I got to thinking about relationships—we’ve all had them—and I realized that the most important virtue for a good family and family life is kindness. If the people involved are all kind to each other, then things have the best chance of working out—because “kind” is a gateway virtue to “cooperative,” and many hands make light work (or: helping each other and thus sharing the burden). Thus kind people elicit more community resources and help than those who are hostile and generally angry and thus repel people.
Being kind to each other is obviously important for couples—for if your partner is unkind to you, that’s about as direct a message as you can get that’s not couched in actual words (and actions speak louder than words, as we’ve all learned). But it’s also important for families—grandparents, parents, children, aunts, uncles, cousins. If family members are kind to each other, then eccentricities are tolerated and mistakes are forgiven. Everyone is treated as though they are loved—i.e., kindly.
Recall some past bad relationships. Were people treating each other kindly? I would bet not, since “bad” pretty much precludes feeling kindly treated.
Just a thought. But it brings being kind to the fore, which is where it most likely belongs.
This sort of assumes everyone wants a good life, but I can think of some who do not, for whatever reason: because they think they don’t deserve it but instead deserve punishment. All you can do is treat them kindly. In other words, being kind is not conditional on reciprocation. Always be kind, regardless.
A tough rule, but I think it is an important one at this juncture. United, we stand; divided, we fall. We must start treating each other with more kindness as a matter of national security. In fact. (This is a clear example of kindness missing action.)
Hmm. Sounds like “malevolence is not personal: it’s not about you, it’s the flaw in their character that they cannot be kind; recognize it for what it is and take steps to protect yourself, but the malevolent person is driven by internal drives—anger, fear, insecurity, whatever—and their treatment of others has little to do with the others and a lot to do with those internal dynamics. Treat the person much as you would an animal acting weird and hostile: you avoid it, disengage from the encounter, keep your distance. Malevolence is about itself, but it can be harmful to others (and is harmful to self, I would say, even physically).
Update: I realize that I have simply given a secular gloss to a common teaching in several religions—and philosophers as well (Kant’s Categorical Imperative is related): that we must love one another, love our neighbor as ourselves. It’s a way of stepping back from the turmoil of the malevolent, to recognize the drivers of the behavior but not allow them to involve us in the craziness.