Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.
- Leo Buscaglia

Monday, June 4, 2012

Can There Be Too Much Kindness?

     Earlier this year I wrote a blog post about the notion of "balancing the scales" (see Keeping the Scales Balanced) when it comes to kindness.  In that piece, I was reflecting on my observation that sometimes it can be uncomfortable for people when you do nice things for them and either the scale is too large and/or they don't have an opportunity to in some way repay the kindness.  I did something today that raised that same potential issue in my mind.  Here's what happened:
     I'm going to keep this a little vague only because I don't want the recipient to feel uncomfortable if he happens to read this post.  I was with this friend recently and he mentioned something he had been contemplating buying for himself.  While he doesn't struggle financially by any stretch of the imagination, funds are still somewhat limited and he has to be pretty careful about what he spends.  I knew that he wanted this item but had been holding off on getting it for some time.
     I really wanted to get it for him so I just went ahead and ordered it shipped to his house from an anonymous friend.  It wasn't ridiculously expensive, but it was more than the kind of token expense (like a drink or a meal) that friends might normally do for each other.
     This got me thinking again about the idea that there are certain amounts of money that we can spend on each other without much of a second thought.  The amount will vary with different sets of people based on their social culture and their economic means; yet I suspect the principle is the same.  For example, it's perfectly OK for me to spend $15 or $20 to buy someone lunch.  But if I bought them an item that cost $1000, it would create some awkwardness.  And if I bought them something for $10,000, it would be even more uncomfortable for them.  
     The interesting thing is where we draw the line.  Is it at $25, or $50, or $100 or where?  And how does that get established.  Again, it's different for different people, but I suspect there is a dividing line in almost all circumstances.  It's the dividing line between what feels small enough that I don't feel indebted to you, and where on the other side I may feel a little weird about it.
     I don't have any brilliant conclusion about this phenomenon.  It's just something I've noticed related to kindness.  A little kindness seems to be a wonderful thing to receive; but too much kindness can sometimes be awkward for the recipient.

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