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It's interesting--and painful--to see sometimes just how cruel people can be to each other.  The human being has devised many ways to make other human beings suffer, both physically and mentally.  One night when I was in Florence, Italy, I went to an exhibit at which they had set up a huge collection of medieval tools of torture.  Until I went to that exhibit, torture and cruelty had been something I had heard of, something that I had read about, something very far away from me.  The exhibit, though, was awful.  The things that human beings had done to each other on a regular basis, often in the name of God or of the state, made me feel as if I had been exposed to evil, as if I had seen something that I shouldn't have seen because it shouldn't have existed.

There are those who claim that we all have cruelty inside of us, that we all have the potential for cruelty, and that if circumstances were to be just right, we would all see just how cruel we can be to other human beings.  I don't agree.  I believe that cruelty is a symptom, usually of many different factors put together--fear, dissatisfaction with self, inability to love and/or be loved, lack of confidence, inability to relate to others, loneliness--you name it; the list can go on and on.  But cruelty is a symptom, a sign that something is wrong spiritually and emotionally in a person, and it's impossible to address the cruelty without addressing the other issues.

Would you put a band-aid on a lesion caused by a sickness without treating the sickness itself?

Many people do just this--six months in jail or in juvenile detention, a few hundred hours of community service. Others ignore something like cruelty and hope it will go away.  Still others avoid the cruel people (this is how I deal with cruelty, and I've noticed that it's particularly ineffective).

Cruelty is a sign that a person is leading a particularly miserable life, that a person isn't satisfied with him or herself.  We can't change their lives for them, and we can't condone the cruelty or let it go unnoticed or unpunished, but let's try to be like the doctor who works to discover the cause of the symptoms.  Let's recognize that even cruel people are human beings who are possibly going through more difficult trials than we are, or who have never been taught how to deal with trials.  Let's recognize that even the cruel people are children of God and deserve our love and compassion.  Let's never repay cruelty with cruelty, for then we're adding to the lack of unity and harmony in the world, and we're doing just what the cruel person has done, except we can rationalize it as justified because we're doing it in retribution.

Cruelty is hurtful and very difficult to understand, much less forgive.  But people are people, and the same God made us all, so let's try to recognize that cruel people are hurting people, and we'll never rid the world of cruel people until we rid the world of people who are hurting.


All cruel people describe
themselves as paragons of frankness.

Tennessee Williams

All cruelty springs from weakness.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Seneca's Morals

I think cruelty is just loneliness disguised as bitterness.

Tom Hiddleston


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Amongst all other vices there is none I hate more than cruelty,
both by nature and judgment, as the extremest of all vices.

Michel de Montaigne


The only moral lesson which is suited for a child--the most important lesson
for every time of his or her life--is this:  Never hurt anybody.

Jean Jacques Rousseau

People speak sometimes about the "bestial" cruelty of humans, but
that is terribly unjust and offensive to beasts, no animal could
ever be so cruel as a person, so artfully, so artistically cruel.

Fyodor Dostoevsky


Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main
sources of cruelty.  To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.

Bertrand Russell
Unpopular Essays

Compassion for animals is intimately associated with goodness
of character, and it may be confidently asserted that those
who are cruel to animals cannot be good people.

Arthur Schopenhauer
The Basis of Morality

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

Tennessee Williams
A Streetcar Named Desire


I hurt myself deeply, though at the time I had no idea how deeply.  I should
have learned many things from that experience, but when I look back on it,
all I gained was one single, undeniable fact.  That ultimately I am a person
who can do evil.  I never consciously tried to hurt anyone, yet good intentions
notwithstanding, when necessity demanded, I could become completely
self-centred, even cruel.  I was the kind of person who could, using some
plausible excuse, inflict on a person I cared for a wound that would never heal.

Haruki Murakami
South of the Border, West of the Sun


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Emotion without reason lets people walk all over you;
reason without emotion is a mask for cruelty.

Nalini Singh
Archangel's Kiss

Probably human cruelty is fixed and eternal.  Only styles change.

Martin Amis
Time's Arrow


Cruelty and fear shake hands together.  An unfulfilled vocation
drains the color from a person's entire existence.

Honoré de Balzac


Violence and cruelty were just a stupid person's way of making oneself felt,
because it was easier to use your hands to strike a blow then to use
your brain to find a logical and just solution to a problem.

Anne Holm
I Am David

Cruelty, like every other vice, requires no motive outside
of itself; it only requires opportunity.

George Eliot


I have heard and seen many examples of the cruelty that we are
able to visit on one another during my time. . . I have also seen
incredible forgiveness and compassion.  Yes, each of us has the
capacity for great evil.  But for every act of evil there are a dozen
acts of goodness in our world that go unnoticed.  It is only because
we believe that people should be good that we despair when they
are not.  Indeed, if people condoned the evil, we would be justified
in losing hope.  But most of the world does not.
We know that we are meant for better.

Desmond Tutu

Thus it is that no cruelty whatsoever passes by without impact.  Thus
it is that we always pay dearly for chasing after what is cheap.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956

The assumption that animals are without rights and the illusion that our
treatment of them has no moral significance is a positively outrageous
example of Western crudity and barbarity.  Universal
compassion is the only guarantee of morality.

Arthur Schopenhauer
The Basis of Morality