A nicer me

MY wife tells me occasionally that I’m not a very nice person, which means, in women’s language, that I’m not even nice, indeed that I’m anything but nice. Usually she says that because I’ve made fun of something she found particularly unfunny, and usually that is something to do with her. I shouldn’t go into detail here.

But in my 60th year I do think it is timely to consider which are the best personal qualities, because I need a few, and to question the qualities that have served me capriciously over those years.

Whenever there's talk of admirable personal qualities, charity, tolerance and compassion lead the list, and it seems to me that the people who cite these are more likely than others to need the benefit of such generosity. I mean, charity in moderation can be a fine thing if it helps you feel better about yourself, but does its absence reduce a person’s worth?

Why moderation? Why not charity in excess? Just as feeding animals costs them in time the ability to feed themselves, might it be that too much charity will cost the recipient the capacity for independence and individual responsibility? We’ve been short of the former for a long time and even more short of the latter recently.

And when these people advocate tolerance they’re advocating more and wider tolerance, because we’re all tolerant of some things in some measure. How much and how narrow the tolerance must be a subjective decision, but just as there can be too little tolerance there can be too much. Who’s to say that you and I are not tolerant enough already, that to be more tolerant would be in the interests of only the undeserving beneficiaries?

And just as we have tough love, it may be that the compassion we need in greater quantity is tough compassion.

So no gain for me there, although some say I should be more compassionate towards the vulnerable, and by that they mean less cruel to the vulnerable. I suppose I can be cruel to only the vulnerable, but I say I am excused because I mock only the vulnerable who are vain. Which is, of course, a virtue.

Sincerity! I am drippingly sincere when it helps.

Vanity will bring you undone, I’m warned from time to time, and the message seems to be that I should embrace modesty. But I am not vain, because I have nothing to be vain about, and I am not modest, because there can be no modesty without vanity.

Aah, you say, patience! You’ve read about my lack of driving forbearance, when I should have pointed out that I am unfailingly passive towards those who have an excuse for their poor driving, an excuse made obvious by such as the wearing of a hat, but try as I do I cannot see why I should be more tolerant of people who are inconsiderate towards me. Just as there can be too much tolerance, of idiots especially, there can be too much patience, for idiots especially. I have both about right.

I should be less cynical, less sceptical? More accepting of, more open to, others’ proposals and propositions, they tell me, and by that they mean that I should be more gullible. I’ll pass, thank you, because I want to keep what money I have and I’m opposed to religion on moral grounds anyway.

Did someone mention morality? It and ethics, integrity and honesty will be in the same bucket and they can be a useful attribute at the right time and place. As they say, there’s a place for everything, and in that place morality, ethics, integrity and honesty will acquit the righteous well. But should they be exercised blindly, should they not be exercised pragmatically?

I’m not so sure that anything is a virtue at all costs, and while honesty is my personal policy because it is easier and has fewer ramifications, I’m not sure that I wouldn’t revisit that policy for an occasion in which it was not easier and had more ramifications. In fact, I’m not sure that I have not already!

Show more respect, they cry often enough! But for what? And why?

If this is for a nicer me, it isn’t working.

What do you see as the best personal qualities? And why don’t you have them?

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