The billing lady brought bagels to work today. I like to believe random acts of kindness still pack a punch. This same morning I brought in a bag of ‘Autumn Mix” to fill the office candy bowl with seasonal sweets for the same reason. As I ate a sesame seed bagel with schmear I remember my English teacher explaining “King Lear” would be totally appalling and pessimistic if not for the many little acts of kindness sprinkled through the play. Of course not everyone is appreciative of the brought-in refreshments. Two people took umbrage. One announced she is ‘gluten and sugar free” so she felt left out – and told us so – while the other remonstrated she is on a diet and it isn’t nice to bring things that could tempt her. I held my tongue to tell the latter the story of Mae West: when reporters asked her how did she feel about people complaining her radio show was vile, she replied: ‘Well, they could have turned it off”.
I find it frustrating – and somewhat rude – when deeds done out with good intent are criticized or execrated. I think Miss Manners would back me up on the axiom when someone offers you something you don’t want the proper response is ‘No thank you’ not a treatise on why you won’t/can’t take the offer (“Let me tell you the evil natures of white flour” ) or why they feel insulted. The other day I was exiting the lobby just ahead of a woman who seemed bogged down with her package. Out of habit I held the door open for her. She told me not to patronize she’s capable of opening a door herself.* My first impulse was to trip her up as she went by, but Miss Manners advises never to return rudness with rudeness. This is called ‘shaming them’ or ‘not stooping’ or ‘setting a good exmplae”. These aren’t very satisfactory but they are the meager weapons allowed to a gentleman.
In the end one should never judge the efficacy of random boy scout maneavers on how people appreciate them or how karma rewards you for your gallantry. Indeed, most of the time you know you’ve done “good” when you get screwed for it. I don’t know why this is so but there it is. This evening I plan to do something simple and nice to some random someone in the grocery store when I stop in to pick something up for supper. No doubt I will be punished but I won’t regret it.
*She went through it anyway without a thank you.