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Why Kindness Is On Life Support.

While in the checkout line at the supermarket, a woman walks up behind me with four boxes of cake mix.  I am next in line and I probably have a dozen items, so I offer to let her go ahead, and she accepts.

When it comes her turn to checkout, she calls to a child who was still in the isle, and the child runs up bringing two more items with her. No biggie, she still has only a handful of items - or so I think. This woman now calls to another child, who is also lurking in the isle, telling him to hurry up. He runs up pushing a trolley of other items!  I actually have to step aside so that he can pass me to unload the goods.

At this point I feel a little cheated, as she now has more items than I do. Didn't it occur to her that the reason I offered to let her go ahead was because she had only four items, and I was being courteous?

While I'm here mulling over how inconsiderate this woman is, another lady walks up and joins her, with two more kids, an a few more items in hand.  Now I'm just plain annoyed, as her mini pile of groceries has dwarfed my few items.  And the selfishness keeps coming: the first lady (and I'm being polite by continuing to call her a lady) proceeds to send the kids back for more items!  How thoughtless can one possibly get?  As for the little runts who aren't running back for more stuff, they are busy creating a commotion asking the prices for sweets which they are paying for separately.

In the midst of the ruckus unfolding in front of me, this guy walks up with two boxes of milk. Great, another one joins the hoggish bunch! Only he isn't with them. He pushes between the children and asks the cashier to ring up his two boxes of milk. Surely she would point out that I was in fact waiting to be checked out. But she doesn't! She cashes his milk, and sends him on his merry way.  By this time, I'm silently simmering.

As the ordeal winds to a close, I'm back at the front of the line watching this woman and her entourage take up their bags of groceries and leave. Not even a fleeting thank you, for my kindness and forbearance.  Good riddance.

This experience got me thinking about why kindness and consideration for others is lacking in society.  The answer I came up with is that selfishness begets selfishness. If being kind is going to get you trampled on, then there is a disincentive for this action.

We can talk about focusing on a higher reason for being kind, and we can yap about altruism and the lot. But truth be told, no one wants to be taken advantage of. We all have some limit to our kindness - let's call it a kindness quota. And sometimes we don't wait for this quota to run out, instead we ration it. We don't let the car on the side road out, because the whole line will speed out behind him - and we don't plan on being kind to all of them. Additionally, we really can't be bothered to suffer at the wrath of the drivers behind us, who slam on their horns the minute we slow down to let someone out.

When kindness is punished, we end up with a society in which selfishness is endemic. It forms a vicious cycle - no one is kind, because others are unkind.  It's self perpetuating.

My kindess quota went into overdraft after my supermarket debacle. As the last of this woman's bags were being packed, a guy walks up behind me with two small tomatoes in hand.  I wonder what he thought as I didn't even spare him a second glance, planting myself squarely in front of the cashier, securing my place in the checkout isle.
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