In my previous post (which was awhile ago – it’s amazing how an engagement and trying to get wedding plans underway can steal your attention!) I discussed the Wizard’s First Rule from Terry Goodkind’s The Sword of Truth series. Today I move onto the Second Rule. Just as the first had some pretty interesting implications for the average person in everyday life, so does the second.
“The Second Rule is that the greatest harm can result from the best intentions. It sounds a paradox, but kindness and good intentions can be an insidious path to destruction. Sometimes doing what seems right is wrong and can cause harm. The only counter to it is knowledge, wisdom, forethought, and understanding the First Rule. Even then, that is not always enough.”
When Richard, the wizard in training, questions this rule, that kindness can be harmful, the wizard gives him some obvious examples: it may seem kind to give a child candy, but if we continue giving him candy and he stops eating good food we’ll actually be doing harm. The child will become sick. Another example would be when a person breaks her leg and we bring her food, take care of her. At first this is obvious kindness, but as the person starts to heal she finds it difficult to walk on that leg, painful even, so we keep bringing food and taking care of her. The longer we do this, the more difficult it will seem for her to get up, to go through the pain of learning to walk again. Eventually her legs will shrivel up and she’ll become bedridden indefinitely. Our good intentions will have caused more harm than good.
The wizard then goes on to discuss the rule in less specific terms, “Good intentions, being kind, can encourage the lazy, and motivate sound minds to become indolent. The more help you give them, the more help they need. As long as your kindness is open-ended, they never gain discipline, dignity, or self-reliance. Your kindness impoverishes their humanity.”
These words really had me thinking. I could see their truth in the small and the large and realized I had had some of these thoughts before. I remember meeting 18-19 year old boys, their first year away from home, who didn’t know how to make their beds, do their laundry, or cook themselves a meal. Growing up in a household where my brothers and I were often responsible for these types of tasks at a young age, it shocked me that others weren’t. I’m sure it was just a result of their parents trying to be kind, to take care of their babies, but they then ended up sending those babies – turned young men – out into the world without the basic skills to take care of themselves. A minor example, that could be rectified easily by the boys finding people to teach them how to do these tasks or fumbling through to discovery themselves . . . but still.
The rule also has implications that are much more concerning. Wisdom and forethought may have told these boy’s mothers that they would be doing a stronger service to their sons if they made sure they at least had these skills. But if the mothers didn’t think about it, what about our government? How many people are on social assistance for an indefinite period of time – long past the point where they should be able to get out and find their own jobs? How many of these same people then come to expect support, feel entitled to it, and raise children who have the same expectations and never become contributing members of society? Take it even further, and how many of these people are using that kind social assistance to support their drug or alcohol addictions – call me judgmental, say I’m unaware of the underlying issues, but I’ve met some of these people and seen the way they live – all in the name of kindness, compassion, and generosity. Wouldn’t it be kinder to spend that money to enable these people to provide for themselves? To let go of their addictions? To overcome their fear of trying to make it on their own? (And yes, there are of course programs out there that do this – and kudos to them!)
The wizard talks about a similar scenario and questions where the fault lays. Give a beggar a coin because he says he needs it to feed his family. Now, rather than feeding his family the beggar uses it to get drunk. In that state he kills someone. Is it your fault? Your intention was to help feed a family, but the route you chose to provide that help led to a death. Could there have been another, wiser, way for you to provide help? He warns that violation of the second rule “can cause anything from discomfort, to disaster, to death.”
Think of your life, as I’ll think of mine. Are there any ways in which you’re trying to be kind to someone, trying to give help, but really you’re causing harm? But really you’re enabling them to not be as competent, as capable, as able to survive in the world as they could be if you withheld some of that so-called kindness? Think of your own life – is there any way in which you’re letting someone do for you what you could do for yourself and thereby preventing yourself from being the person you could be? Even further – is there any way in which some of these good intentions are causing harm, or could lead to harmful consequences in the future?. Don’t shun kindness, but be cautious and thoughtful with what kindnesses you bestow. Be a wise wizard 😉