Cruelty

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She came to me with tears streaming down her face from behind her glasses with lenses as thick as the bottoms of bottles. She held up her braille copy of our mathematics text book so that I might see the hundreds of holes added maliciously to the raised marks on the paper. Someone had punched those holes uniformly with the point of a compass. She thought she knew who it was and as she made her accusation I watched him smirking and laughing as though he had done something wonderful. When I approached him he owned up to his antics with a kind of pride. He scanned the room with his sarcastic smile as if he knew that the other students would shower him with adulation. That’s when I lost my composure, all sense of decency, my usual instance on being kind to everyone. 

I tore into him with the advantage of being an adult, someone who knew how to use words as a weapon. My lips were dripping with sarcasm as I spoke of how small he had to be to hurt a blind girl just to get attention. I asked him what was wrong with him that he was only able to find friends by being ugly. I went on with my anger until he was sobbing like a small child and then I hurled my most lethal blow by shaking my head and saying, “That’s what I though. You are just a little worm with no courage, no character, no substance.” 

The students broke into a cheer. They smiled as though I had released them from an evil spell. There was a sense of relief as the poor soul continued to cry in shame with his head down on his desk. I should have felt victorious but instead I felt like scum on the bottom of a shoe. I had allowed myself to fall to a level of unkindness that I swore I would never use with another human. I had always believed that two wrongs do not make a right no matter the circumstances and yet here I was. 

I mostly try to be a kind person but sometimes my very human traits lead me down a rabbit hole of thought or words or actions that are as awful as the behaviors I most abhor. Of late I find myself all too often succumbing to the kind of nastiness that has seemingly become popular. Whenever I have had my fill of insulting language or actions I react but never as horribly as I did on the day I defended the little blind girl in my class. In retrospect I see that the boy who ruined her book was a damaged and disabled as anyone. His approach to life and people was toxic but I should have remembered that he had to have learned how to be that way due to some horrible circumstances. I did not need to accept his behavior, but I should have combated it in a more humane way. I should have been the example that he needed. Instead I became not just his worst nightmare but my own.

Of late I find myself muttering to no one that I am so tired. I still have more than a good share of physical energy but psychologically I am bushed. It is not so much that I am depressed because I am still able to take delight in the glory and wonder of the world and its people. I don’t mind the sacrifices I have made during the pandemic. It is my disappointment in people that is wearing me down. When I see someone note that a particular person or group is “human garbage” I shudder. When I witness abusive language or behavior being not only accepted but encouraged as some perverted form of bravery, I want to cry. I find myself wondering if the world has somehow gone crazy or if it is only I who have a problem. 

I am not fool enough to think that the world can ever be filled with rainbows and unicorns. History is proof that we humans are capable of unthinkable horrors. Nonetheless I want to believe that most good people are offended by cruelty no matter the reasoning for it. My stomach turns when I hear cheers for remarks that should never have been uttered, including those like I made to that unfortunate boy. It says something terrible about our society when we are willing to follow and revere brutishness. It is as inhumane as kicking a wounded dog. 

If there is one thing that is holding me back from celebrating each day with pure joy it is the realization that so many have wittingly or unwittingly allied themselves with individuals and groups that are almost barbaric in their assessment of those with whom they disagree. It worries me that we have allowed this trend to go as far as it has without insisting that it stop. Somehow too many have conflated boorishness and vindictiveness with courage. 

I still believe that we humans are mostly good. We want to be better than our natures sometimes lead us to be. We are usually a forgiving lot and we even know how to get together when necessary to topple the tyrants among us. There are signs that we are no longer willing to simply accept the cruelty that is so fashionable but in our haste to rid ourselves of it we have to be careful that we do not become as bad as the brutes who dish it out. We should always remember that it may be okay to topple a few tables to get the attention that we need but hurting people should only be a last resort. I’m betting that kindness and love will eventually win but it is going to take some concentrated effort from most of us to make that happen. We can’t look the other way anymore, but we must be careful not to descend into the darkness when we make the efforts to rid ourselves of the cruelty that we so dislike. Surely we are better than that.