I have found myself reflecting more and more about how people are treating one another in today’s world. My thoughts took me back to hearing Thomas Cahill’s interview on NPR. He indicated that he felt there are two movements in the world: kindness and cruelty.
His presentation confirmed my thinking over the years. I had also concluded that there were two diametrically opposite roads that individuals and groups could travel. One road is that of cruelty. The other is the road of compassion and kindness.
How we treat others
In my formulation of these two distinct means of existing, cruelty is a course of actions and words that lead to a denial of the truth and to a division between people, as well as the destruction of people’s lives and the institutions that are necessary for society to function as it was intended to function.
This dishonesty and division ultimately lead to the destruction of communities, standards of behaviour and the security and health of people. Fortunately, history has proven that the path that leads to denial, division and destruction has a limited lifespan. Hitler lasted from 1932 to 1945. The Soviet Union existed for 70 years. What accounts for the extinction of societies that promote cruelty?
The world of cruelty exists by treating individuals as a means to an end, and not as equally important members of the human community. It is predicated on greed for material ownership and wealth, along with the will to have power over others. It is a world of ‘I am the only important one and nobody else matters.’
Such a world is self-limiting. Such a way of life and treatment of others ultimately becomes a cancer that devours itself.
In contrast, the world of kindness and compassion treats human beings with respect, with care and with a commitment to community. The world of compassion is one where we treat others as we would want to be treated.
All of us are born, all of us bruise and bleed, all of us have needs, fears, anxieties and hopes. Regardless of our station in life, all of us will someday die. In addition, we all have the need to be heard, understood, respected and seen. Without those needs being met, we can feel alienated from ourselves and one another.
Fear of the unknown
What prevents some from walking the road of compassion? Simply put, it is ignorance and the fear of the unknown, the fear of others who are different from ourselves.
Just when we elect a black president, a renewed racial strife rears its ugly head. Why? Because electing Barack Obama for two terms, as President of the United States, drove the final nail into the coffin of the myth of white supremacy.
Those who need to feel that America is a white man’s country are being forced to change the lens through which they view themselves, life and others.
With such a reality undeniably presented, those who need to feel that America is a white man’s country are being forced to change the lens through which they view themselves, life and others. That can be a frightening experience, one that some will resist for the duration of their lives.
To view brown-skinned people—people who might speak different languages and have different religious orientations—becoming the majority of the population rocks certain people’s realities to the point at which such changes become (for them) a fight for survival that they cannot afford to lose. Hence, the rise of White Nationalism in the United States since Obama’s presidency.
Another reality also exists that can help reset the tone for our viewing of others as different from ourselves. To realize that, ‘but by the Grace of God, there go I’ is a sobering truth. Our birth into a particular family, into a particular race, in poverty or in plenty, with good or poor health, with various infirmities and abilities—where we wind up in life, the world that we are born into, is a fluke of fate.
That is a sobering thing to reflect upon and it might well serve to bring a bit of humility to each one of us. I could be the one living on the street without a job, or working three jobs and not being able to make ends meet, having to go without medical care or having to declare bankruptcy due to a catastrophic illness of a family member.
Cruelty or kindness: The path we choose to follow begins with realizing that there are these two choices in life. We must choose which of these ways of life we will travel. Do we want to only care for ourselves and disregard the needs of others? Or in the long run, by all of us being heard, understood, respected and seen, might the way be open for all of us to experience being a part of a community, where caring for one another becomes a way of life for all?