15 Whoever puts up security for a stranger will surely suffer,
but whoever refuses to shake hands in pledge is safe.
16 A kindhearted woman gains honor,
but ruthless men gain only wealth.
17 Those who are kind benefit themselves,
but the cruel bring ruin on themselves.
It is a risky thing to underwrite the debt of a friend, even more so that of a stranger. Even if they hold up their end of the bargain, which is no sure thing, it is a vulnerable place to be. It is wise to err on the side of caution, making no commitments that will jeopardize your peace if not also your welfare. There are many other ways to help a stranger without putting yourself at great risk, consider them carefully before you decide whether you are willing to suffer on their behalf.
“A kindhearted woman gains honor, but ruthless men gain only wealth.” While it is rewarding to be kindhearted for its own sake, it also has the benefit of winning the honor of others. Relationships are worth sacrificing for, as you will be valued by others to the degree that you value them. The ruthless man is focused only on the thing he wants, which in this case is wealth, and is willing to sacrifice anything in order to get it. Where does that leave him? With “only wealth,” and nobody to enjoy it with.
“Those who are kind benefit themselves, but the cruel bring ruin on themselves.” This is a paradox, as the results are contrary to the motives. The kind don’t set out to benefit themselves, as they put others needs ahead of their own, but as a result they open themselves up to the kindness of others. But the cruel act only in their own interest, at the expense of others, which turns out to cost them more than they gain. Who will be there for them in their time of need?