“But Sam has a good heart!”

Have you ever heard someone described that way? I have often wondered what it means. Is Sam a kind person? Generous?

It is followed by the statement, “Well, that’s just who they are.” Again, what does that actually mean?

These words and descriptions often occur in conjunction with some behavior that is clearly not an indicator of a “good heart.” The behavior may be anything from unkind comments to actions which may cross the line into criminality.

“But he has a good heart!” Yet actions, as the saying goes, speak much louder than words.

I have often wondered if the person making those statements in defense of another believes they are being kind by defending them. Kindness is described as being selfless, caring and compassionate. Perhaps they imagine that they are showing empathy for that person who is struggling and lashing out.

There is another side to the story…the people hurt by the behavior of the one with the “good heart.” Is it kind or empathetic to them to justify the actions of one individual over their feelings?

We all struggle at times, make mistakes that may hurt another. But we apologize, showing remorse, and changing our negative behavior. These are actions that are all part of a perfectly imperfect human trying to do just a little better every day.

By excusing dysfunctional actions, by never expecting behaviors to change, we are actually being everything but kind and compassionate. Clearly and truly, the opposite. We never give the person who has hurt another the chance to fulfill the possibilities of the human they could be.

Enabling aberrant behavior only causes it to escalate. Organizations such as Al-Anon which supports the family members of people dealing with alcoholism exist for just this reason. If Sam never learns the healthy behaviors to be a social, functional human being, he never develops the capacity to change. If the excuse of a “good heart” persists, he will never learn that actions have consequences.

People will live up to, or down to, the expectations others have for them. Showing the compassion, the grace to acknowledge the struggles of others while still expecting the best from them may be the ultimate expression of kindness.

susan schirl smith
Susan Schirl Smith is a writer, photographer and holistic nurse based in New Hampshire. Her essays have been published in Cognoscenti, Pangyrus, Silver Birch Press and The Journal of Holistic Nursing. Her photography has been featured in Barren Magazine and L’Ephemere Review. Smith’s current manuscript is Desperado, a memoir of her brother. You can follow Susan on her website or Facebook.

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