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[The following is an excerpt from The Pillow Book, a Japanese classic. A pillow book is a sort of diary filled with the day’s observations. Few survived. This one was written by Sei Shonagon (c966–1017), a lady-in-waiting to the Empress Sadako during the last decade of the tenth century.]

Sympathy is the most splendid of all qualities. This is especially true when it is found in men, but it also applies to women. Compassionate remarks, of the type ‘How sad for you!’ to someone who has suffered a misfortune or ‘I can imagine what he must be feeling’ about a man who has had some sorrow, are bound to give pleasure, however casual and perfunctory they may be. If one’s remark is addressed to someone else and repeated to the sufferer, it is even more effective than if one makes it directly. The unhappy person will never forget one’s kindness and will be anxious to let one know how it has moved him.

If it is someone who is close to one and who expects sympathetic inquiries, he will not be especially pleased, since he is merely receiving his due; but a friendly remark passed on to less intimate people is certain to give pleasure. This all sounds simple enough, yet hardly anyone seems to bother. Altogether it seems as if men and women with good heads rarely have good hearts. Yet I suppose there must be some who are both clever and kind.

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