Why are people mean to each other, especially kids? This question has been on my mind lately because of two conversations with teenagers who dread going back to school this Fall. Both are attractive, smart and funny young women. They live in different parts of the country and are at opposite ends of the socio economic ladder. Despite their differences they have a lot in common, including their reaction when I asked whether they could avoid the mean kids at school and seek out friends who are kind: They laughed. These girls remind me of the narrator in David Foster Wallace's iconic novel Infinite Jest
who lists about ten pages of "exotic new facts" that he learned spending time in a substance recovery facility. One of those facts is that "there is such a thing as raw, unalloyed, agendaless kindness." The passage stays with me because of its incredulous tone that suggests kindness without an agenda is surprising. That tone was echoed in my conversations with these teenagers.