FAITH & REFLECTION — Cruelty is a callous indifference to, or taking pleasure in, causing pain and suffering in others. Most of us do not want to think of ourselves as cruel, so we focus upon examples from long ago, and/or far away, like the Holocaust or atrocities committed by ISIS. Severe cruelty on the part of others also shields us from accepting our own personal propensity towards being cruel.
I once met a man whose hands were quite deformed. Later, I asked a mutual friend if the man’s misshapen hands were the result of rheumatoid arthritis. He said, “No” and then provided the following explanation.
This man was born three months before his mother’s husband returned from WWII. Having been gone for more than two years, it did not take any mathematical wizardry to realize that he was not the biological father of the three-month-old that he met upon his arrival at home.
The man, quite inebriated, became terribly infuriated. After beating his wife for her infidelity, he took the child and threw him outside on a -20° night.
The mother, returning to consciousness and realizing what had happened was too frightened to do anything until her husband passed out. She immediately rushed outside and retrieved her little boy from the snow bank and did what she could to help him. However, disfigurement to his face, feet, and especially his hands, remained an enduring and visible testimonial to the cruel and horrific events of that evening.
We would never be guilty of such cruelty, would we? However, we will probably never face such circumstances to know how we might act or react (I am in no way either agreeing with or legitimizing the man’s actions).
Cruelty, in some form or another, is as common as it is universal. I’m not saying that everyone is intentionally cruel. I am suggesting that we are all (some more than others) quite capable of being cruel.
For example, what insensitive thoughts and perhaps even body language do we exhibit when we see individuals who (by our personal standards) look, speak, or dress differently than us?
There are also those subtle feelings of enjoyment that we experience from seeing or hearing that someone else is having problems. And by the way, what patience did we show, what tone of voice did we employ and what kindness did we share with the last telemarketer whose call we absentmindedly answered?
Then there is the cruelty of omission…those occasions when we could be of assistance, but instead “shut our ears to the cry of the poor…” (Proverbs 21:13). In effect, the withholding of kindness and benevolence is cruelty by default.
“Only the weak are cruel. Gentleness can only be expected from the strong.” Leo Buscaglia