I’m Worried

I’m in favor of kindness and good deeds. Really, I am. But do we need to study them? Should we study them? What if they’re not as kind and good for us as we think?

I immediately began worrying about these things last week after the announcement of a $20 million gift to UCLA for the establishment of an ”interdisciplinary research institute” devoted to studying kindness.

Uh-oh.

The news coverage of this bequest — a front-page story in the Los Angeles Times — was all sweetness and light. Doing good deeds supposedly make us less depressed and cut down on cancer and heart disease.

I’m not opposed to sweetness and light. I want to take this at face value, but I’m a sort-of responsible journalist. I know what science is supposed to look like. If you study something, you need control groups, and the results can be unnerving.

Think about it logically. A good deed can make you happy, but can’t a bad deed make you happy? Can’t you get the same good chemical rush from cutting off that annoying driver on the freeway as you get from letting them into your lane?

If this is going to be real science, they’re going to have to compare kind groups with evil groups. I’d be very nervous about finding out which group ends up happier and healthier.

There should also be an indifferent group. What if they discover that not caring about anything is the best way to relieve stress and live longer? After all, isn’t that what “mindfulness” is all about?

This is a very dangerous field of research. It might be a good deed to put a stop to it.

Bizarro World? Question: What is “reverse racial discrimination?” Is there such a thing? Can you sue if you’re reverse racially discriminated against? Shouldn’t reverse racial discrimination mean you got better treatment because of your race?

Those questions flooded into my mind after reading the first half of the very first sentence of a Pennsylvania federal judge’s ruling the other day. This is what it said: “Plaintiff Joseph Juisti brings this action against his former employer the City of Chester for reverse racial discrimination and retaliation …”

Why would you sue an employer for favoring you?

This was not what happened. It turns out that the plaintiff was a white guy who claimed he was harassed by a black woman supervisor. Apparently the judge who wrote this ruling found this so startling that it had to be the opposite of real race discrimination.

It gets weirder. One of the things the plaintiff was upset about was that a black police commissioner wouldn’t let him wear sunglasses with white frames.

Maybe it was reverse discrimination because the plaintiff really needed the fashion advice.

Modern Romance. Fans of “Rashomon” and “The Affair” will enjoy a California appellate ruling last week in a case called In re the Marriage of Carolyn Goodwin-Mitchell and Michael Mitchell, in which the court tells the story from the points of view of both parties. More rulings should be written this way.

It begins with Carolyn’s story. Her first husband was from Jamaica and she helped him get a green card before they got divorced. So, naturally, she went online and found another Jamaican — Michael — who wanted to move to America to “live with her, start a restaurant business, and join the U.S. Army.” So she helped Michael get a visa.

If you’re cynical, you might wonder whether Carolyn failed to see a pattern here, or maybe just wanted to import as many Jamaican men as possible into the United States.

Not surprisingly, the relationship with Michael didn’t work out. Carolyn claimed that Michael started having sex with other women within a week of making it to the United States.

According to Michael, this was not so. He claimed they “fell in love after internet dating for two months” and that those other women were just friends that he didn’t have sex with. It wasn’t his fault that one of them demanded sexual favors and that he told the other one that he loved her. It was perfectly innocent.

I’m not sure what the moral of this story is, but I can’t wait to see the mini-series version.

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