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To be a social person we must adapt our behavior to other people’s needs. A pure Hobbsian or a pure sociopath may get along just fine for brief encounters but if he wants to maximize his personal profits he soon learns to play the game of being properly social. This type of person will follow the weak form of the Golden Rule and be nice to others so they will be nice to him; at least he will pretend to be nice because it serves his selfish purpose. It is easy to pretend to be nice because all one needs to do is read the various self-help books, like the granddaddy of them all, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, and follow those few simple rules. Above all, keep smiling! Many people, perhaps most people, fall easy prey to a smiling face who talks of mundane subjects like the weather. Unfortunately, these conversations give little hint of the qualities of the person speaking them, and function to conceal rather than expose true human compassion.

A better indicator of a person’s character is his relationship with the human values of kindness, fairness and justice. These are different things but they do form a continuum of human caring and responsibility. Justice is obedience to the laws of the land and there are systems in place to enforce what the public expects of its citizens. These laws are attempts to be precise in defining words and their concepts of what is not acceptable. They moderate human interactions in a brittle way, but it does keep most people treating other people reasonably well most of the time.

Fairness is much harder to define, and it goes far beyond the law’s demands for behavior. The rules are nebulous but demanding of conformity to ongoing social norms. Whereas justice sets minimum standards below which you are punished for transgressing, fairness goes from some similar set of standards and then rewards people for behaving even better than those standards and avoids people who don’t conform. People form groups based on conformity to various sets of behavior depending on the goals of the group. All seven billion people of the world belong to several different social groups and each group expects different behavior for the person to be successful and treated well.

Kindness is different from either of these because kindness can be bestowed upon anyone. The recipient of the kindness doesn’t have to be in any particular social group to receive the kindness, and there is no legal requirement for a person to bestow a kindness upon anyone. Kindness goes beyond legal justice and fairness, but it requires more human compassion to give kindness because it requires understanding the needs of other people. It requires observation, caring and it requires the commitment of a personal behavior. These things require an ongoing consciousness of the present situation, so kindness can not be a set of nearly mechanical routine behaviors. People can be conventionally nice, they can be conventionally obedient to the laws and justice but they can not be conventionally kind.

Choose kind people for your friends and avoid the just and fair ones.