Friday, March 14, 2014

Casual Cruelty

Today I read one of those bumper-sticker quotes on FaceBook (this one attributed to Maya Angelou), which goes something like this: when someone shows you who they are, believe them.

Yesterday I read a blog post (sorry I didn’t save the link) recounting a young man watching a young woman at the gym skulk around until she was positioned to take a picture with her phone of another woman, overweight, working out – he presumed, it turned out rightfully, to post as humor.  This young man got creative and positioned himself behind the young woman to take her picture to post with her identity if she did this anonymously cruel thing.

What I loved about the story was the creative way the young man engaged the young woman in an exercise of social accountability.

What I hated about it was that this young woman felt no compunction about making fun of a stranger for no other reason than that she could.

Are such acts of casual cruelty more prevalent in our time?  Or have they always been rampant?  I don’t know.

I myself have participated in a practical joke gone horribly wrong.  So it is that I reject Ms. Angelou’s advice and choose not to judge the young woman as someone who is innately gratuitously cruel.  I see her more as an emotional child inasmuch as she was stopped not by an understanding of what she was doing, but by being caught out.

Perhaps it is the anonymity of today’s technologies that make a difference, which is one of the reasons why I put my own name to what I write.  If I’m not prepared to own it, I shouldn’t say it.  It keeps me honest and probably kinder than I might otherwise be.

We spend so much of our collective time horrified by the ‘big’ cruelties.  And they do matter.  But it’s the little cruelties that have the most impact, I suspect, if for no other reason than their commonality.

So well done to a young man who found himself with a choice one day at the gym.  I’m not sure I would have used his approach, but rather than simply observing what was happening to someone else as if it had nothing to do with him, he acted and in his acting, he changed things.  Who knows, maybe the young woman will abandon her secret life of gratuitous cruelty.  I sure hope so.

In my own case, I am simply older and wiser now.  It is a great shame that my own education came at someone else’s expense.  I will always regret that.  

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