Cruelty, like every other vice, requires no motive outside of itself; it only requires opportunity. —George Eliot
I started yesterday in one of those foul moods where I’m pretty sure my verbal cruelty had Kat more than happy to be spending the day at the salon. I hate those days, but yesterday rather snuck up on me as a confluence of circumstance combined with continual interference from an unwanted external source made the situation intolerable. While I would like to excuse the behavior as just being human, I can’t. I know better. I caved to those basest and vile instincts that might have had their place some 40,000 years ago but are wholly inappropriate now.
Sadder still, I’m far from being the only one who has had issues with cruelty of late. We have come to expect cruelty in a presidential election year, I suppose, but that still doesn’t make the comments against women, minorities, immigrants, or other candidates’ family members any more appropriate. One of the first things I saw in my newsfeed this morning was a click-bait article (I’ll not bother you with the link) recounting the 17 worst assassination attempts on President Obama. And the whole still-developing mess from the Panama Papers threatens to unleash a whole new wave of international outrage toward anyone whose offshore dealings come off as shady. Given the current inference of bad guys mixing with heads of state, one might expect the next couple of weeks to be a bit tense at best.
I worry that cruelty has become our second nature. Someone says something we don’t like, we want to punch them. Someone represents something we oppose, we want to redistribute their body parts. Someone cuts us off in traffic, we’re immediately homicidal. We don’t want to take time to talk and understand each other’s point of view, we don’t want to take into consideration a different perspective. We don’t want to negotiate a peaceful outcome. We want full and complete destruction and will go to whatever means necessary to satisfy our blood lust.
This is the world we have created. We cannot blame our bent toward cruelty on previous generations. We did not learn this through bad parenting. We did not get here by failing to get the right trophy when we were in grade school. This is the result of a conscious and deliberate decision to not stop ourselves at that first moment of anger or disappointment. We could have just as easily shut ourselves down and done the right thing, but we decided, both collectively and individually, to let the anger push us forward.
As a result, we no longer even notice when five are killed in Pittsburg, or Kansas City, or Glendale. When an Uber driver goes nuts and kills six in Kalamazoo, we’re momentarily upset because children were involved, but then we go right back to exactly the same things we were doing the moment before. We’ve resigned ourselves to the notion that this is just the way things are and there’s nothing we can do to stop it.
I call bullshit.
I can do something about my attitude and my response to everything that happens to and around me. How I respond, in turn, effects how others around me respond and their response impacts others beyond my reach. Every last one of us can improve the world simply by changing our own response and not letting anger and cruelty take over. We are in control and just as my grousing and cursing made yesterday difficult for everyone, I can just as easily make this morning better by saying thank you, speaking softly, and maybe even hand delivering a kiss or two where appropriate.
You can do the same. I know you can. You can smile, even though the weather this morning leaves something to be desired. You can choose a quiet, positive-toned response when someone approaches you with unjustified anger. You can stick up for someone who’s being treated unfairly. You can earnestly try to understand someone else’s point of view, even though you disagree with their position on the matter. You can step back, count to ten, or maybe even walk away from a situation rather than losing your temper.
We can all do a lot to change this pattern of cruelty that we’ve allowed to permeate our society. After all, we were the ones who let the situation get out of control in the first place. Politicians don’t make America or anywhere else great, people do. Let this be your #MondayMotivation to start making the world more friendly. We can do it.