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Pyle: Stopping the cycle of cruelty

Published June 23, 2012 8:44 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

"Some things are not forgivable. Deliberate cruelty is not forgivable. It is the one unforgivable thing in my opinion and the one thing of which I have never, never been guilty." — Blanche DuBois

Ms. DuBois is a fictional character, the toweringly unstable heroine of Tennessee Williams's "A Streetcar Named Desire." So it might be possible that she has not only never — but never, never — been deliberately cruel to anyone.

Most of us real people are not so pure. We get scared. We get offended. We feel slighted or deprived. And we respond by being downright mean to someone. Maybe to the person who has it coming. Maybe to another, weaker, or more accessible, victim.

The anger can be generalized to a gender, an ethnic group, etc. I had a friend in high school who was fully aware that it was totally irrational of him to dislike all black people just because a couple of African-American teens had, years before, knocked him down and taken his bicycle. But he hated them all, all the same.

Now I get several emails a week from a gentleman who is constantly on edge because some granfalloon known to him as our "white/Caucasian republic" is under attack by, well, folks who aren't white or Caucasian. I'm not sure who stole his bicycle, but he has my sympathy.

And I don't know what roving band of lesbian housewives ran over the dog of whoever is hiding from Davis School District kids a totally innocent picture book about a family that was lucky enough to have two moms and no smelly, good-for-nothing dads lying around.

This dislike of the different evolves into endless feuds of Montagues and Capulets if our authority figures — government, religion, media, education, the Prince of Verona — don't stand up.

The greatest harm comes when the cruelty is internalized. When someone who was the target of acts of cruelty tries, as intelligent humans do, to make sense of the senseless and concludes that he or she must have somehow deserved it.

It can seem all too logical. If A hates me, and B hates me, and C avoids me, and D calls me names and E wants me and my whole family deported and F won't let the library carry books about people like me, the only common factor to all those statements is the "me." So that must be what's wrong.

Falling into that logical fallacy can lead to one, or both, of two awful outcomes. Exploding, in ways up to and including violence. Or collapsing, in ways up to and including suicide.

"I am a man," the ancient Roman dramatist Terence said in a pre-gender-neutral translation, "I hold that nothing human is alien to me."

So President Obama, when announcing new policies that will avoid deporting children of illegal immigrants, simply argues that aliens are human. Especially the children who live next door. He used similar reasoning in coming out for same-sex marriage, noting that his children have friends who live in households with two parents of the same gender and that denying equal rights to them — real people he knows — is just unkind.

Mitt Romney, meanwhile, is still behind the curve on gay marriage. But he has pointedly passed on the chance to score some anti-Obama points by saying that he would be nasty to innocent children who happen to be from other countries.

In both cases, it has less to do with policy concerns than with two family men deciding they will not be cruel. And that's the kind of leadership that democracies need.

George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, is a smelly, good-for-nothing dad who thoroughly resents what was just said about him.






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