Obligatory Kindness

20 09 2009

It’s the definition of the act of generosity that may not be entirely willful.  It’s epitomized by phrases like “Call me if you need anything” and even the greeting of “How are you?”.  The speaker doesn’t really want you to call them at nine at night because your car broke down and you need a ride home; nor do they really want to know that the break down was the straw at the end of a long day of camel riding.  You, as the recipient, are supposed to bob your head appreciatively at their gesture or reply with a “great, and you?”.  The problem in this obligatory kindness is when you as the recipient come calling for that generosity.  And suddenly the curtain is pulled back to reveal a little elderly man with cranks and levers and a look of total cluelessness at your request.

I was a victim of this gift today.

A few months ago, I like many Americans and friends I know, was looking for work.  Working every contact and every angle, emailing every business and selling myself to anyone who would potentially buy.  And in the midst of that quest a friend offered me her home.  For my children.  After school.  They’d only need it for thirty minutes, as bus riding isn’t an option to our own home.  Without even looking at the threat of weather; I still have the threat of two sex offenders, wild dogs and a two mile walk down a series of dirt roads.  Not happening.  This friend, whose children attend the same school as mine and whose children’s friendship with my children is the reason for our own friendship.  And she said to me as we chatted one day, if I needed after school care for the girls once I found work, that they could go there.  And I counted on this generosity.  As I accepted my job offer, two things went through my mind – before school and after school care.  I went into the school and enrolled the girls into before school care and then called on the friend for the after school care.  She faltered.  She needed to check with her husband if this would be okay.  That pause was followed by an “I’ll call you back in five minutes.”  A day passed.  Ultimately, this arrangement wouldn’t actually work.  Sorry to say.

And while another friend has stepped in so graciously to help me out and the situation is resolved, I wonder still why she felt the need to offer this obligatory kindness to me.  Is it compulsory, like Chandler in that Friends episode where he couldn’t keep himself from saying “I’ll call you” to the bad date he couldn’t get away from?  Do some people just feel that they absolutely have to say something that they don’t have to say at all?  Myself, I never ask how a friend is if I don’t really want to know; but I know I have often responded to this question with much more than the questioner really wanted to know.

Perhaps I was just raised differently.  My father told me my reputation is my word and my word is my reputation.  Don’t promise anything you can’t keep and don’t offer anything you won’t follow through on.

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One response

22 09 2009
Blaire

I have run into this too many times to count. When our oldest son was hit by a car, at the age of 3, not one of our neighbors said or did anything when it happened until the ambulance showed up. Our one neighbor from two doors down came down and said, ‘If there is anything at all that we can do for you, just let us know. We’re here for you.’ Knowing that we had two small children, our daughter 6 and and an infant son, who would need to be watched, even just once, so we could go to the hospital, they never once offered. They basically avoided us and so did the rest of the neighbors. Glenn ended up coming out to the house to watch them the night of the accident. But, nobody else ever offered, I suppose because they came up with other things to prevent them from doing so. Brian and I resolved at that time, that we’d never rely on or anticapte anyone’s help ever again…even if it was offered, because something always came up at the last minute.

I’m sorry you had to go through this. If this job thing doesn’t work our for me, I’ll be happy to fill in, if the need arises and your friend is unable to keep them.

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