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The virtues of kindness The virtues of kindness
by Joseph Gatt
2020-08-29 09:29:11
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A lot Koreans used to tell me that “kindness is a sign of weakness.” A lot Arabs also tell me that “kindness is a sign of weakness.”

I do have my grumpy moments like everyone else. But I'm not a two-faced guy. I don't play kind with the powerful and behave like a jerk with those who are weak in appearance.

Staying calm and kind saved my life more than a few times. But here are some examples where kindness saved me from trouble.

kin0001_400First example

I used to teach at a Korean university and had a Korean co-teacher. The concept was there were two teachers in the classroom, me, and a Korean woman.

Now the Korean lady I was teaching with had what I thought was behavior that was beyond tolerable.

I almost wrote a letter to the dean saying the following:

“Dear Dean, I'd like to respectfully call your attention on the fact that my co-teacher is systematically between 15 minutes and an hour late for class, picks up her phone in class, throws the student's notebooks on the floor, yells into the microphone when lecturing, when a soft voice is more than enough and there is no need for a microphone. She also altered my test sheets and replaced my test questions with incomprehensible and grammatically wrong questions, delayed an exam by an hour because she had lost the test sheets, and acts like a bully towards all students. Need not mention that she never prepares anything for class and completely improvises.”

Now little did I know that my co-teacher was the University President's MISTRESS. Apparently her relationship to the President was a passionate one. Had I pressed “send” and sent the email to the dean, and had the dean reported the impossible behavior to the president, I would have been fired for other motives. That is the president would have found a reason to fire me, and his mistress would have given him and the dean a couple of good reasons to fire me.

Even though 15 hours a week with my monster co-teacher were hell, I had to endure the hell and act like it was all normal. The only reason I did not complain was I thought the Korean leadership would side with the Korean co-teacher.

In sum, patience and kindness saved my job. Had I been fired, my financial situation would have been very complicated, and my relationship with my then Korean fiancée and foster parents would have been super complicated, because those people would have sided with the university and would have concluded that “these Jewish scumbags can't get anything right.” That saved me some embarrassment.

Second example

For the 72 years of existence of the State of Israel, there was no real political dialogue between Israel and the Arab world. There were security and economic consultations between the two parties, but there was no in-depth political and social dialogue.

Arabs had their pre-conceived ideas about Israel, and Israel had its pre-conceived ideas about the Arab world. The two worlds rarely discussed politics and society, and if they did, it was always two different worlds and realities consulting with each other.

It was easy for me to get impatient in the Arab world. After all I could have been living a decent life in Tel Aviv or something.

But despite the Arabs believing that kindness is a sign of “weakness” what the Arabs don't realize is that they tend to confess their vulnerabilities to kind people.

That is a dialogue between two Arabs is often on where condescension and ego battles are kind, and at the end of the dialogue, each member goes home dumber rather than smarter.

Same goes for any dialogue between an Arab and a Jew. The Arab wants to look better than the Jew, the Jew loses patience, and they both go home irritated and frustrated, but having learned very little.

Now first off, cats are considered divine figures in the Arab world, and my last name “Gatt” means “cat” in Arabic (in some dialects it's Gitt or Qitt but anyway) and that helps get some respect. Actually Gatt is a winepress in Hebrew, but that's another story.

Second off, over the span of 30 years, being kind with the Arabs, listening, helping, doing chores and favors, did help me get them to open up a great deal. The Arabs were not always thankful for me performing favors (actually a lot of times they act like my favors were obligations).

But, for the first time in history, there was a political dialogue between a Jew and the Arabs. I know what offends the Arabs and how to approach political and social issues at times with tact. And I also know that there are opportune moments when truths can be told.

This was a win-win dialogue. I learned about the Arabs. I taught the Arabs stuff about them. The Arabs taught me stuff about the Jews no Jew ever knew. And the Arabs perceive the Jews in ways they had not previously perceived them.

Example 3

Very short example.

A rule I tend to use (with occasional lapses) is the “no gossip rule.” In all the circles I've belonged to, I never really gossiped about the crowd surrounding me.

The only exception I use with this rule is when I re-unite with an old acquaintance (and we chat a bit about what the people in the circle have become) or when a friend is about to leave somewhere else.

Now here's the good thing about the “no gossip” rule. Technically speaking, I have never directly been the victim of rumors involving me dating someone else, or some kind of romantic link, or some kind of evil or crime I might have committed.

Yossi Gatt was always that “mysterious loner with something of an intellectual bent.” But no one really tried to “invent” stories surrounding who I am or what evils I've done.

Now the only campaign against me was after my liberation from Camp 44 in June 2015. Around September 2015 in South Korea there was a national campaign of sorts called “Intellect is not important. Attitude is important.” I used to joke that “attitude alone builds clay houses and rides horses.”

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