Wednesday, September 29, 2010

On Cruelty

Last night, I went to see the movie "You Again" with Jamie Lee Curtis, Sigourney Weaver, Betty White, and a host of other actors that I know. The premise was that there was a girl who made one of the characters' life miserable in high school...and the rivalry never went completely away. The characters scrapped it out in funny and predictable ways...and most of us would recognize one or the other of the characters...the tormentor or the tormented.

I think that everyone at some point in time has encountered cruelty. Maybe it was an offhand comment that unintentionally took root in our hearts, a snubbing because we couldn't keep up, or obvious bullying. Maybe we just thought that someone was weird, had cooties, or was so out of the mainstream that we just couldn't accept them...not realizing that a few years later - in college - that there was a different lifestyle in every dorm room. Or maybe we were new to a school in a small town, had some label attached to us because of the behavior of someone related to us, or were so sure that everyone was out to get us that it eventually became a self fulfilling prophecy.

We've all encountered it, though. On one side or the other...or both.

I know that some people have a stronger need to be in the spotlight than others. Negative attention is better than no attention at all, and so they will play along with whatever other people are dishing out. I remember junior high and seeing one poor unfortunate soul getting the brunt of almost everyone's disdain. Some of it he brought on himself, but I have to say that I'm convinced that the majority of it...he did not. He was just very different and not particularly friendly. I don't know why one kid is picked out to be swallowed by the masses, and why perfectly nice children feel the need to pick on the weakest one. But they do...and this happens. What children don't know...but adults that for most of is a hidden shame that we carry around for having participated in such behavior. And there is rarely anything that you can do to make it better. Except teach your children well and hope that they don't participate when that test lies before them or stopping it when you see it.

Other times, there are people that stand out due to natural gifts, abilities, or just pure chance. The Homecoming Queens, star football players, and whiz kids who get scholarships to wherever they choose to go. Some of the time, these lucky few are such wonderful people that people love and respect because they are more star-struck than envious. But sadly, for most, they live a little isolated because their success means that the jealous souls who surround them feel free to try to knock them down a peg. Or two.

In the "girl world" the cruelty can be devastating. Cases have recently gone to court because a girl dared to have a boyfriend that someone else laid claim to or because she was so different that everyone felt it was fine to dump on her. Usually, these cases do not end well, and end up in the national spotlight. The pain that they cause is just unnecessarily cruel. Then, when something awful happens, it just keeps on coming because the ones who are participating in this behavior are so far in that they can't even see the error of their ways. And they think it is hilarious to see them get what they "deserve". As if they are adequate judge and jury.

Sadly, sometimes parents get on the bandwagon. Someone makes a mistake early or is just too much of a threat for their daughters...and she gets labeled. You want to knock a girl out of competition for anything? Call her a slut, and then attempt to back it up with a little bit of circumstantial evidence. Whether it is true or not true...nobody really cares. The deed is over. If the mistake is large is all that anybody really remembers about her.

Most people feel their hearts ripped out of their chests if they see an animal who is the victim of cruelty. Locally, a man went to prison for a very long time for pain he inflicted on a dog he owned. Everyone felt that the punishment fit the crime. And I'm not arguing that.

But what about the pain our words and deeds toward people causes? Are our hearts ripped out of our chest over that? What about the careless words that we speak because we are envious, angry, or just plain mean? Shouldn't we be punished for those as well?

Most of the time, we are not. And the recipient is told to suck it up, get over it, and that this is the way life is. And that's somewhat true. But how about the next time that we feel that familiar feeling that shows we might be headed toward saying or doing something that could hurt someone else...that we pray very hard that we will either turn away from it or fast forward twenty years to see if it is something that might turn into a huge regret later on? Because that would cut out a great deal of pain in this world.

I'm not talking about people who bring it on themselves by putting being different in our faces front and center and we are simply commenting on it. That's an entirely different ball of wax. I'm also not talking about matural competition when we are toe to toe in the heat of competition and doing a little bit of trash talking. We pretty much expect that kind of thing.

I think that most of us are good people at heart. We may see someone being left out or treated poorly and we'll step in to try to make it right. But the truly lucky people are those who stand in the gap for others against unfairness and ridicule...even if some of it tends to slosh out onto themselves. These are the ones who will live with fewer regrets and no baggage to unpack in a therapist's office one day. If you have one of these people in your are lucky indeed.

So, if you have been one of those people who has tried to overcome who you were...bravo. Or if you were on the other side of it and used it to propel you to greater heights to show "them" your worth...good for you. I personally believe that God doesn't allow our tears to be wasted. Whatever we endured will be used mightily. And whatever we dished out will be used to remind us to protect others in similar circumstances.

Or at least it should.

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