Wednesday, November 06, 2013

On Cruelty and Kindness

“Evil almost always starts with small cruelties.” 

In my academic guidance counselor role, I've brokered discussions about how to answer an essay question.  Some students feel compelled to not take a side, reminding me a bit of me when my fifth grade teacher had us all go around the room and say what we'd do if our house caught on fire. I said that it was impossible to answer honestly, as- given the stress level of that situation how could one know what one would do? She went around the whole room and then came back to me and had me give an answer like everybody else, claiming to know what noble or not so noble act we'd do. And yet that's the name of the essay game- buy into the question by taking one side and going with it.  It's like in debate leagues when you don't know what side you're arguing until right before the competition begins.  

The above quote struck me. While there are two sides to every story I'm, for the purpose of this post, taking on the viewpoint of Will Schwalbe. I've seen evidence in my lifetime to support the theory that evil lives in "small cruelties." And I wonder if cruelty is like a crumb.  A crumb is a crumb, if you split a crumb in half you don't have half a crumb, just a crumb. A small act of cruelty is not small, it's just another act of cruelty.

Years ago I heard a rebbe speak about being at the kotel for the communal birchat kohanim at Sukkos time. Many people speak of the beauty of this event.  He did too.  he also noticed something else. After the event there were less than enough buses.  And there was a big crowd.  And he saw with his own eyes a young man knock and old woman to the ground.  And he saw the old woman pick herself up and spit in the face of the young man.  At that moment he thought was taken by the contrast between the achdus that the event was meant to cultivate and the lack of unity on display as crowds fought to get on the number one bus.  And when I heard this I was struck by how evil can exist in the seemingly small acts of anyone.

Long before I read this quote I realized that evil is not just a large scale phenomenon but is something that lives in the small actions of any human being.  Anyone can be evil, so be careful.

When I started writing this piece I thought that it would be longer, but now I think I've gone as far as I'm going to go with it for now.  If you read it and have a thoughtful comment to make, please- make my day. Let's together try to live out the opposite of evil through little actions and big ones that are good, true, and kind.


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