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Fool Me Once, Shame on You. Fool Me Twice, Shame on You Twice

All throughout America and the world, folks celebrate the new year, hoping to rid themselves of the COVID-laden scourge of 2020 and begin anew. Typical New Year’s resolutions include losing weight, exercising, being more organized, quitting smoking, and making more money. But kindness – true, meaningful kindness, not just sending mom flowers on Mother’s Day – is often missing from the list.

In other years when our nation faced particular challenges, such as in 2001, when we were ravaged by the 9/11 attacks, Americans came together and tossed partisan bitterness aside. And the rest of the world, with rare exception, rushed to our side, foregoing any anti-American sentiment. Regrettably, that was not the case in 2020. Although the initial shock of the national lockdowns put cruelty on the backburner, it didn’t take long for it to rear its ugly head.

We saw it in the form of violence on the streets of some of our biggest cities, to degrees unfathomable for the United States. Americans have long tuned into the news and witnessed footage of such chaotic lawlessness on the streets of foreign cities, but not in our own country. At least not most of us under 70. Sure, there was a noble cause attached to the behavior: ending police brutality, particularly the white-on-black version. None of that, though, excuses professional agitators hired by anarchist organizations, or freelance amateur vandals and looters simply seeking to unleash some pent up energy accumulated from sheltering in place for weeks on end, and swiping some booty on top of it. Kindness toward one’s fellow human being? Bah! Apparently, that’s for suckers!

Then there was pre-election agitation. “If you vote for (so-and-so), we no longer share the same values” was not an uncommon phrase uttered among relatives and lifelong friends. No regard whatsoever for the pain inflicted by such rejection and abandonment, simply pigheadedness running roughshod over decency and compassion.

Actually, what inspired me to devote this week’s column to the message of kindness awareness was a reminder of the concept as portrayed in an episode of the TV series Dallas. For those unaware, the show was top-rated for most of the 1980s and even had a three-season revival within the past decade. I like watching episodes on DVD when I get a chance, and the Christmas/New Year’s holidays often gives me some much-needed downtime. So I settled into an episode a few days ago, involving the storyline of Carter McKay (played by George Kennedy), who was interested in buying the ranch next to Southfork, owned by the show’s premier family, the Ewings. Clayton Farlow (Howard Keel), married to family matriarch Ellie Ewing, welcomed McKay. As they pleasantly bantered back and forth, it became obvious to the audience that McKay was up to no good although Clayton was oblivious to any sinister motives. They met again a few times, particularly after McKay bought the adjacent ranch. Clayton continued to speak in a warm, friendly, cheerful manner, as McKay soaked it all in, looking to store it into his memory bank to exploit it for evil purposes later on.

That is a classic example of art imitating life. Good people encountering bad, not realizing they’re about to be hoodwinked. Their kindness, rather than appreciated and embraced, is used as an opportunity to marshal one’s resources for some type of attack later on – one that may inflict some sort of harm, usually not physical, more often economic and/or emotional.

The widely circulated saying “fool me once, shame on you, full me twice, shame on me” conveys the following advice: don’t get fooled a second time. Unfortunately, it implicitly removes any blame for the deceiver and passes it to the deceived. Essentially, it gives repeat liars a pass while it shames those whose heart is filled with such kindness that not only do they see the goodness of humankind in general, but they also leave themselves vulnerable to be hoodwinked by the very same person(s) more than once. And although it would behoove such folks to become a little more streetwise, their golden soul ought to be celebrated, not castigated.

It is with that mindset, then, that I propose an amended version of that maxim, as follows: “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on you twice as much.” If we are to add to our kindness the components of forgiveness and understanding, then we may be able to give spreaders of unkindness another chance; perhaps they weren’t in their right frame of mind when they meted out their cruelty. But the more they repeat their offenses, the more it seems that their heart – to borrow from the Bible – is indeed made out of clay that ultimately hardens into stone.

What are these motives that cause some of God’s children to behave as if they were spawned by a different father? Is it money, power, greed, revenge, jealousy, insecurity? What could possibly be worth intentionally, or with reckless disregard, causing pain in others? Having studied the American presidents for decades, I know a lot more about them than does the average person, including some of their low points. I chuckle when one president is called a villain compared to another, who is deemed a “nice guy.” My response: “the really nice guys are people you never heard of; they were stepped on along the way, and refused to compromise their kindness even as it meant the end of their political success”

I remember I was a kid when I first heard another common expression “nice guys finish last.” It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that someone in my company actually expressed that sentiment to me, in support of a person who wasn’t often very nice in order to get ahead. I thought to myself: “wow, so there are people who actually believe that horrible statement,” and I remember responding with the counterstatement I developed also when I was a kid: “nice guys may finish last, but they finish best.”

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