This morning at the breakfast table, Alexander was making faces and growling at Zoë.
Zoë said, "And this is exactly why eating breakfast with you is not always pleasant, Alexander."
Alexander pouted and said, "Zoë, that hurts my feelings!"
And I thought to myself: This. This is a perfect example of how difficult it is to be kind.
Who was in the right here and who was in the wrong?
Alexander wasn't targeting Zoë with the faces he was pulling and the growlings he was making. He was simply being...weird. But the sounds and faces were making Zoë feel uncomfortable (and in all honesty they were rather unpleasant), so she expressed her discomfort in what I thought was a rather eloquent, calm, and patient manner. Still, Alexander felt slighted.
So Zoë felt Alexander was being unkind by being an unpleasant breakfast companion (growling and making faces) while Alexander felt Zoë was being unkind by calling him out for being unpleasant (because his unpleasantness wasn't directed at her; it simply was).
Now, could she have simply tolerated his behaviour? Certainly.
Doesn't he deserve to exercise his face muscles, his vocal cords, his personhood?
Oh, but doesn't she also deserve to have a pleasant breakfast experience?
If this anecdote from my breakfast table—a quibble over such inconsequential, unimportant matters—is so complicated, imagine how complicated life is. In a word: very. Life is very complicated and it can be so hard to suss out who is in the right, who is in the wrong, who deserves our trust, who doesn't. It's hard to understand the motives behind everyone's actions, it's hard to know—and impossible to meet—everyone's expectations, especially when fairness and kindness come into play.
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