Search This Blog

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Cruelty and Disconnection

It never ceases to amaze me...the amount of cruelty in the world, the level to which we're willing (as human beings) to be vicious toward one another. It makes me want to scream, "HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN?" Have we forgotten that our actions run outward from us, like an echo? Every cruel behavior impacts the victim, the victim's beloveds, random strangers, and (eventually) the entire society. No, you say. It doesn't. If I cut someone off in traffic, it affects only me and them.

No, I say. It doesn't. When I witness an act of rudeness, I'M bothered by it. I'm indignant at the discourteous behavior of one person toward another. I KNOW the damage being done. When you've done mental health and social work for more than two decades, you begin to understand the way that actions filter through person after person until the ripples are so far beyond the original players that you can scarcely identify them.

How many of you have turned off a news story because the heinous nature of the act was so difficult to watch? Or, hid an item in your Facebook news feed because it was too graphic to take? Or, cried at a news article, or upon hearing the sad story of someone else's loss? That's called empathy. (More and more, its lacking in our society due to the nature of social media and impersonal communication, but that's a conversation for another day.) The true issue is that ALL human beings have the capacity for empathy. It CAN be taught. But, most of us already have it in spades. In fact, empathy is so terribly uncomfortable for most people that they build emotional and behavioral shields to prevent them from being impacted by the feelings of others.

I would argue that this is not only unnecessary, but encourages the existence of cruelty. When we become numb or ignorant of the hardship and emotional states of everyone around us, we become detached from our divine connection. Speak with any criminal psychologist and they'll talk to you about how a predator depersonalizes a victim, reducing them to an object rather than a person...a thing rather than a he/she. I would argue that we all do this, to some extent...people involved in horrible disasters on the other side of the world become an abstract concept. But, for many, people in the next neighborhood also become "far away." We have become a society who reserves our empathy only for our most bonded beloveds.

The situation is well described by sociologists in urban areas, where many people are close in space. They call it urban isolation, or depersonalization of human association. In other words, personal relationships are lacking. How well do you know your neighbors? Your local shopkeepers? The servers at your favorite restaurant? Chances are, you don't.

It is my opinion, that it is NORMAL for us to feel impacted by the moods and emotions of others. In fact, I would go so far to say that it is actually HEALTHY. We've become a world that fears and despises discomfort. As a result, we go to great lengths to avoid any unpleasant sensation -- including the use of substances, false affects, and dozens of other techniques. We, in fact, celebrate 'toughness.' I believe that this single perspective is destroying human civilization from the inside out. We are constantly combative, fighting over imagined scarcity. We don't help others because we fear not having enough for ourselves. We invent reasons to justify our poor behavior, like the Protestant Work Ethic -- the idea that poverty is punishment for lack of ambition. The bottom line, of course, is that the Protestant Work Ethic and other similar precepts are there to justify greed and separation. There are good reasons to have "idle hands," sometimes.

If we want to be well as a people, I believe that we must reconnect to each other. We must build our tolerance for discomfort, recognizing that discomfort SHOULD spur us to action. If I'm uncomfortable because of someone else's suffering, it generally causes me to act to alleviate said suffering. Is this not how compassionate people SHOULD behave? Is this not what every religion on the planet teaches -- love for fellow person?

A candle is not dimmed by lighting another candle. 

And, we are never diminished by acts of kindness and compassion.

Think on it.



  1. You are so right my friend! I know when I go out and socialize with others, I am smiling and helping. Some people look at me strangely, but that is fine, they are probably just not use to it, but most of the time, people are smiling and laughing with me. If someone needs help, I try as much as I can. This has been totally lost in our society!! So sad!