Showing Strength: Caring vs. Cruelty

The Sanctions of Hurt

Talking to people who are less socially competent than I am every now and then feels like a breath of fresh air. I don’t have to impress anyone. I can say the dumbest things possible and the other person will be totally unfazed. There are no guessing games. If I am feeling awkward I can revel in it, because the other person probably feels that way, too.

Unfortunately, these conversations rarely go very deep. But at least they are free of obligation.

I suppose the reason for these feelings is that I am not worried about hurting this person. But that doesn’t sound right. Why is hurting this person less consequential than hurting another? Simply because the former is often a target of cruelty? Because the latter demands more respect?

What honor is there in hurting a helpless soul?

Even if the cruelty does not amount to physical pain or violence (which it never does, thankfully, in my experience), there is still the nastiness of emotional hatred behind the cruel act. This hatred, in turn, can inflict emotional pain. I'd go so far as to say that the intentions behind physical actions (such as acts of violence) can produce even more pain than the actions themselves. The sting really comes from knowing that you are hated.

I cannot deny that I sometimes laugh at the humorous cruelty inflicted upon outcasts, which happens largely due to the discomfort of the situation. I cannot deny that I sometimes add fuel to the fire, such as by not being very kind to the outcasted person myself. It’s rare that I’m mean outright, unless I’m very frustrated or edgy. But I’ll often try to avoid them, and may shut down any hint of conversation quickly.

Even more despicable, perhaps, is that I fear being caught at those times when I do talk to them. When alone with the person in question, I’m far more likely to talk to them than if others are around. In fact, if others are around, it’s very unlikely that I will speak to this person at all. I’d loathe for my peers to witness my correspondence with a social reject. It might put a dent in my reputation.

Yet, where I might retain reputation and apparent status, I lose all honor. The question bores a hole into my soul: What honor is there in hurting the weak?


Rethinking Weakness

Maybe people who complain a lot, for example, are just weak. They haven’t recognized how powerful they really are. They aren’t aware that they can consciously redirect their power to serve them, rather than lead them to suffering. They don’t understand that suffering lies within the realm of choice.

In this aspect of life- of relating to others fairly-, I have not been honorable. Perhaps I am not cruel outright, as I said. Not most of the time, anyway… But isn’t any of the time to any extent more than enough? How cruel does cruel have to be to be wrong?

It is unfortunate that weakness is contagious, as though a disease. This makes it difficult to remain present with those who are weaker than us for very long. Unless you are very strong, thoughts of weakness will seep in, and you will slowly begin to question your own power, ability, and faith in humanity.

What is to be done here?

Obviously, the first step is to stop contributing to cruelty. Don’t talk about the person behind their back. When others engage in such cruelty, don’t express support for it. Try not to laugh—even if it is funny (and I assure you, at times, it will be).

Next, recognize the ways in which the other person could be called “superior” to you. Perhaps, for example, you are on the same sports team, and they possess athletic abilities that you do not (on a track team this is usually pretty easy to figure out, since there are so many different events). Maybe this person does not engage in cruelty, whereas, as you have seen, you do. Perhaps you admire their insensitivity to social cues. If only you had the same insensitivity, you might spare yourself quite a bit of suffering.

The main weakness I’m focusing on here is social incompetence, since that is most often the target of cruelty among humans. You know—the person everyone makes fun of, and no one ever really converses with. The person’s whose self-centered, often out-of-context remarks often bring discomfort to the room and are quickly dismissed.

But social competence is not the only weakness we can consider here. Maybe the person in question complains more than you do, or is physically less hardy (i.e. has lower endurance), or takes poorer care of themselves, or is a listless individual. Depending on the context, these are less likely to be the targets of openly-aired cruelty among a group. But that doesn’t mean that you won’t continue right on with being cruel, inside your own head.

This is a poisonous form of thinking which, admittedly, I have engaged in for as long as I can remember. I have often complained to myself about others’ incessant complaining. I’ve succumbed to frustration over why these people just can’t seem to get it together—or at least shut up, and respect others’ peace of mind.

Of course, under the light of examination, this form of thinking is foolish. All I have accomplished is allowing others’ upset to become my own. By their weakness, I have been weakened.

But it’s not really their weakness that is at fault here. It is my own weakness—my propensity to judge, and my demand for perfection from my external circumstances. Interesting how complaining essentially does those same two things.

Consider what you can learn from a supposedly “weak” or “inferior” person. Why do you put so much attention on this person and her weakness, anyway? Might she remind you of your own weaknesses? Could this be a call to change those things within yourself if you can, and make peace with them if you can’t?

When something external to you bothers you so intensely, it’s usually because it reflects something internal to you that bothers you. What you don’t like in the world is often what you don’t like in yourself. What you don’t like in yourself is often what you don’t like in the world.


Strength from Weakness

See others’ apparent weaknesses as a call to be strong. When others around you are chronically unhappy, recognize that you can be unconditionally happy. When everyone around you is whining and complaining, while you are genuinely enjoying yourself, you don’t have to tone down your enjoyment for their sake. You don’t need others to conform to you in order to keep smiling.

When others around you express physical weakness, call upon your strength. If there is cold, for instance, attend to the situation consciously. Breathe deeply, and learn to roll with the resistance. Share your warmth with others. In other situations, use your physical strength to assist others with tasks they struggle with or cannot do on their own. Be strong to be useful, as parkour enthusiasts will advise you.

When there are people around you who are socially incompetent, remember your capacity to care. Perhaps you have been that person before—not attuned to the present social dynamics, saying dumb things, basically friendless, failing time and time again to march to the same drum others do. Maybe you aren’t quite that person anymore, but you still share some things in common.

Whatever the case, remember that the key to genuine, joyful social connections is care. When you care about others, it is difficult not to forge loving relationships somewhere along the way. You will not agree with everyone, nor will everyone like you—plus, you’ll still probably say dumb things sometimes. But you can still listen attentively to others and express appreciation of them.

Likewise, when others around you express cruelty, do not squelch your own caring. Do not close your heart. You need not give your values away simply because others would have you do so. If you can do nothing else, always remain aware of yourself. Even if you don’t know what you can do about it, be aware that you care.

To express unconditional care and joy is to demonstrate strength undefeatable. To choose to remain aware and true to your best interest, even in the face of weakness and suffering, is to retain your honor.

A man who remains true to himself can very well, by extension, serve the best interests of others. By modeling and sharing strength, he lifts up those who are weak. When you preserve your own honor, you preserve the honor of us all. You make us prouder to call ourselves “human.”


Honor Needs No Shield

When you relate to weakness by calling forth your own strength, you enable yourself to be surrounded by the strength of others. This can happen in several ways. You will lift up the people around you and help them to cultivate their own strength by sharing yours with them. If you do not do that, then those people will soon enough feel disgusted by you and leave. Other people of strength will then more easily find you to take their place.

You can chase people out of your life who you'd prefer are not in it by telling them to leave. This is the roughly-neutral option (depending on how you approach it).

You can even, if you want, keep those people around as punching bags, and express hatred toward them until they flee. This is the cruelty option.

Or, you can give them a chance to be strong by sharing your strength with them, which is accomplished by honoring what you value. From there, let them judge this honest display of yourself. If they leave, then so be it. This is the caring option.

Cruelty is beneath us. It does little more than mask our own insecurities. It is the same with denial. To deny that we care is to express insecurity in our caring. It means that we fear being hurt more than we value helping others to feel loved. This is not merely selfish-- it is self-destructive. One's soul withers away from continued denial over time.

Choose instead the honorable path, and you will cultivate strength that comes not from overpowering others or seeking to emulate them, but instead from caring about them.

Even when I am weak, recognize the strength in me. Preserve my dignity. In so doing, you preserve your own.

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