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Cruel to be kind? - Ed's journal
Cruel to be kind?
I've often wondered about the phrase "You have to be cruel to be kind".

It always struck me as a strange concept, I mean, how could that possibly be the case?

I'm starting to gain an insight into it though. Put simply, the hand that's burned is slow to reach for the fire. Whilst you can keep the hand from getting burned, then it never learns that simple lesson, against the day where you can no longer watch over.

I think that means that sometimes, you just have to let something do something wilful and stupid, because if you try to protect and fix, then they don't realise the consequences. A child might want to be fed sweets all the time, but few would agree that doing so is a good idea. And if the child throws a 'want sweety!' tantrum, then the best thing to do is 'be cruel'.

This kind of has analogies in my life at the moment, although in this particular case there's no child involved, and denying them their sweeties isn't something I can do. All I can do is warn that they'll make themselves sick, and then let them go and do it. Even if this time I stop them, I can't, and won't always come running. So, standing back, watching and hoping both that it'll not go horribly wrong, and that it will, both at the same time, is the only option. As much as it might break my heart to do so.

So how do you find a balance? I mean, at a fundamental level of dealing with other people. A friend in need is one thing, but what if what that friend _really_ needs is a reality check? What they really need is to learn that very tough lesson, that the world is a hard place.

I think, perhaps, I shall or should be talking to the person after work. But I've no idea what to say.

(Apologies for being a little vague, I'm not entirely sure why, except it's just not very nice to spout other people's personal problems across the world, and ... well, maybe that'd count as 'cruel to be kind' but in a way that's much harder to anticipate eventual outcomes)
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tenuous From: tenuous Date: October 4th, 2005 09:39 am (UTC) (Link)
Sometimes people need to reach the bottom before they can bounce back. Trying to help can just prolong the fall and result in a worse landing.

Of course, it's never quite as simple as that...
sobrique From: sobrique Date: October 4th, 2005 10:55 am (UTC) (Link)
No, unfortunately not. It's hard seeing someone you care about get hurt. And harder still when they seem to be doing it themselves.

I don't know how it'll turn out. I think everyone deserves to do well for themselves. But I suppose you can't control someone's life, or otherwise 'push' them into a course of action, because even if you succeed, you'll have to stand over them and keep doing it.


Sometimes I wonder if the best solution isn't just to keep clear and stay out of it. But that probably doesn't help either.
(Deleted comment)
sobrique From: sobrique Date: October 4th, 2005 10:57 am (UTC) (Link)
Same mistakes over and again, or just one mistake, drawn out?

Hard to say.
ehrine From: ehrine Date: October 4th, 2005 10:33 am (UTC) (Link)
If it helps you, I used to have real problems handling my finances. That is until I ran out of money. Once. After that, I was a hell of a lot more careful. Essentially, you're right. You learn far more from experiance and having to deal with the consequences then you do from being told "don't do that" all the time.
sobrique From: sobrique Date: October 4th, 2005 10:58 am (UTC) (Link)
Running out of money sucks somewhat, but when there's ... less ethical/legal ways of "getting by", that becomes less of a motivator.
mrph From: mrph Date: October 4th, 2005 09:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
There always are, although the exact ones may vary. The question is whether you choose to use those ways or you draw a line.
purp1e_magic From: purp1e_magic Date: October 4th, 2005 11:59 am (UTC) (Link)
As someone who has that analogous child, I wonder if I might have some insight to offer.

Letting him make himself sick only works if he first understands that it is a consequence of eating too many sweets. Without guidance, he might decide it was the apple he had earlier that made him sick, not the sweets.

I choose not to let him gorge himself on sweets (amongst other things). If the impact of his actions are not immediate, he's less likely to learn. And, he has the sense to believe me when I tell him bad things will happen.

At other times, I will let him find his own way. He climbs all over everything, and I want to encourage his physical achievements, so all I'll do is warn him to be careful, but not stop him from climbing the bookshelf or whatever, but plce a cushion where he'll land. As a result, he's fallen off lots of things, but has now developed an accute sense of his surroundings and his limitations.

It's often instinctive, you know inside how to react. If you're ever in a situation where you need to act urgently, you'll know what I mean. You seem to be veering towards letting that person climb. Which is fine, but you do need to point out to them that there is a possibility of falling, and help them prepare for that by placing the cushion, or suggesting they do so.
sobrique From: sobrique Date: October 4th, 2005 12:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
Not exactly I'm afraid. It's more that I can't stop them from climbing, and any suggestions about the possibilty of falling go unheeded. I'm not sure if that is because there's been someone with a cushion in the past though, or whether it's something else.
purp1e_magic From: purp1e_magic Date: October 4th, 2005 12:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
Unheeded warnings are still warnings. If things go wrong, at least they'll have some idea why.

I don't know if you're a religious person, but when I run out of other things I can actively do for someone, the only way left to help them is to pray for them.
crashbarrier From: crashbarrier Date: October 4th, 2005 01:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
Cruel to be kind is an odd phrase. It's a phrase that tries to sum up something that is collectively known.. you know like.. "well if you don't try you'll never know" Again it stems down to personal responsibility and how you are trained by your childhood experiences to deal with that responsibility.

As children trial and error is an intrinsic and important part of our develpment. As parents it is my belief that our responsibility to allow our children to stand on their own feet by learning by trial and error. Part of this process is the "here is my warning about what will happen" at which point small child goes "I don't believe you so I will do this thing" Parent goes "well don't come crying to me when it happens". Child does the section gains an injury and parent then soothes small child and reinforces the "lesson" learned

The problem stem from when Children are not allowed to explore this. They are relived of the burden of responsibility by their parents "wrapping them in cotton wool". Because of this everything is always "somebody/something elses fault" and it is never considered to be Their fault so the lesson is never learned and they are doomed to keep repeating the same mistake over and over again becuase it isn't their fault its happening.

This is going to sound very negative but there is a point where there is nothing you can do. If they are going round the circle again you can warn them, you can point out their revolution, but it won't matter becuase they won't recognise that they need to sort themsleves out. They will still beieve that if they don't face up to it it isn' there or that someone will not swoop down and take the responsiblity from their shoulders becuase they don' thave responsibility. In the same vein of "you can bring a horse to water but you can't make him drink". You can warn someone that something is going wrong but it is up to them to listen and act on that.. or not act as they may or may not want to.
From: (Anonymous) Date: October 4th, 2005 07:26 pm (UTC) (Link)


Is it cruel to tell the truth as you see it??
Or is it worse to ignore what you judge to be a pending disaster???
Whatever you decide it is not your life! IF you claim the right of friendship you have to accept the responsibility of being accountable as a friend and the "friend" has to accept that you had the right to speak out and respect you for that.
sobrique From: sobrique Date: October 5th, 2005 10:13 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: cruelty

You can't always (or indeed often) stop people from doing what they want. It's not so much ignoring the disaster as being unable to convince them that what they're doing isn't right. And of course, that's assuming you've any right to judge that in the first place, which is often far from certain.

Ah well, I guess we'll see how these things play out.
mister_jack From: mister_jack Date: October 7th, 2005 01:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
People can change; but they can only do it if they want to. Convincing someone that they want to change is virtually impossible they have to that for themselves - one way of doing that is for them to hit rock bottom.

Also remember that you are ultimately only responsible for yourself and any children you have (while they are young) - you are not responsible for your friends. It is not your fault if they fail, and it is not your duty to stop them hurting themselves - you can only advise and if that advice is not taken; well, so be it.
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