When Kindness Isn’t Kind

We are finding our way through to the end of the Age of Covid with help from ancient wisdom preserved in the Book of Proverbs. One of the stated goals of that book is to “teach shrewdness to the simple”. Accordingly, many if its instructions involve proper management of wealth.

In handling finances, Proverbs encourages generosity as exampled by this saying:

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due
When it is in your power to do it
Do not say to your neighbor “Go and come again
Tomorrow I will give it” — when you have it with you

But in the Book of Proverbs there are limits to generosity particularly when it comes to offering one specific kind of assistance:

A man lacking in judgment strikes hands in pledge and puts up security for his neighbor

In my color code system, shade that proverb orange for it describes the way of the fool. Proverbs advises against guaranteeing another person’s loan seven times, making this, by my count, one of the most repeated warnings in the book. Why such concern? In ancient Israel offering surety on a loan meant the guarantor accepted responsibility not just for any unpaid debt but for the entire loan. In essence the guarantor relieved the debtor of any obligation to pay anything while gaining no right of ownership as a result of bearing the risk. It was, in other words, a stupid thing to do.

In the view of Proverbs, it is important to “be generous” and the wise never “withhold good” when they can give it. But when kindness encourages irresponsibility, it is no longer kind.