123. viva la revolucion!
I, in my naivete, used to believe that being a kind, generous person meant that kindness and generosity would be returned to me. I don’t mean if I helped someone that I expected that specific person to be available to help me in return on some future date. I guess I believed in a kind of grand karmic bank account where good deeds deposited could be withdrawn from in times of need.
I’ve found that this is an exercise in frustration. The world is like a black hole for kindness – it goes in but it’s a one-way trip. Now it turns out that apart from x-ray radiation, black holes do kind of leak minute quantities of mass due to quantum effects. In the same way, sometimes kindness does return but it’s at a much, much, much smaller level.
The realization that kindness and generosity are bad investments has been a source of much frustration for me these last few years. I felt lied to. I had believed all those church/Bible study lessons that told me it was better to give than to receive, that JOY meant putting Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last. I believed those things and put them into practice. And then I kept trying to figure out how giving was any better than receiving; and I kept wondering when the joy part of the JOY formula started kicking in. I can’t say exactly when, but it finally dawned on me that those sayings were/are bunk. Receiving is better than giving in every way, and putting yourself last is a surefire way to kill joy.
It’s been hard for me these last few years. I’d been a generous person for so long, that it’s just a part of who I am. It didn’t matter that the foundation on which I had built my generosity was made of sand, it was there to stay. Sometimes friends tell me to just forget about helping people and to just do what makes me happy. Well, helping people is the thing that makes me happy.
But doesn’t that contradict your critique of JOY? Perhaps I’m not explaining myself well. What I mean is, I grew up believing that being kind and generous would cultivate a life where kindness and generosity would return to you – it would create an atmosphere of good will, (kind of like terraforming – turning the hostile air of cynicism and greed into sweet, breathable mercy). The realization that’s been killing me these last few years is that there is no guarantee of return, in fact chances are good that kindness will never be returned. And that made me pretty salty because it’s like I’ve been investing in a start-up that had already shut down. Think of those people in New Orleans who pumped money into hurricane insurance year after year only to have their home destroyed in a flood which is not something their policy covers. “Well then what good is all that money I’ve been paying for hurricane insurance?” That’s how I felt about kindness and generosity.
So I get to the point where I realize that kindness and generosity are bad investments. I figured there were only a handfull of things I could do in response:
1. Stop being kind and generous. Switch to live and let die mode and just look out for number one.
2. Stop being kind and generous. Switch to being selfish and greedy instead.
3. Keep being kind and generous. Live with the frustration I’m feeling now, grin and bear it. Try not to go poastal.
4. Go poastal. Do not go gentle into that good night, go with a big fucking bang.
None of those options appealed to me because none of them were sustainable. Even option three, which is pretty much the way I’ve been living for years, was unappealing because it seemed pointless, stupid, absurd.
And then the skies parted, light broke through the darkness and the fog. The little bulb over my head flickered to life. I had a eureka moment.
I realized that I could be kind and generous DESPITE the fact that it was a bad investment, despite the fact that it offered no yield. I could be kind and generous knowing full well that it would likely never come back to me, that it offered no guarantee of good friends, good jobs, good wife, not even a good reputation. I could be kind and generous as an act of sheer rebellion, as a subversive act of open aggression against a greedy, needy world. I could be the leader of a rebel force of one. I could strike out with guerilla attacks of random kindness. I sow the seeds of a revolution that seeks to overturn a world stuck in the trap of consumerism – where everything is seen as a transaction with one party profiting and another suffering a loss, where even free car washes are not really free car washes, where we are defined by what we own rather than what we give a way.
Yes, it’s futile. Yes, I’m just one little man and my revolution of kindness will go unnoticed, ignored, perhaps even exploited by those who will take advantage of my cause. I acknowledge all those things, but I don’t care. If I am just one tiny flame of light in a dark world, so be it. If I can allow the Kingdom of God to trickle into this fallen world through my life, I think that’s as noble a cause as any.
It’s mad, but it’s beautiful. I just hope I’m up to the task.