The minor cruelties of life are the most socially erosive. I see examples of these minor cruelties every day in my crowded urban environment. The adolescent thug lounges across three subway seats as people stand around him in the aisles. Groups of young pedestrians push past a tenuously balanced elder on a crowded sidewalk. The entitled customer holds up a cashier line for no reason with little regard for those behind him. Drivers routinely risk the well being of others by running red lights.
When I walked into my 90-year-old mother's hospital room last evening on a relatively quiet hospital floor in a renowned urban hospital, I found that the meal server had placed her food tray just out of her reach and had not helped her raise her bed to an eating position. My mother, having had a hip replacement two days earlier, had been struggling to reach her meal prior to my arrival. I later saw the meal server when she collected the tray officiously. It was obvious that she was oblivious to how cruel and alienating her attitude was.
The minor cruelties add up to the major atrocities in society. This is a well known process. It can be reversed only by education and example. I consider it part of my practice as a humanist in society to foster attitudes of cooperation and consideration of all human beings in life situations. As a citizen, I believe I can do this best by modeling considerate and cooperative civil behavior in public situations. In work situations, modeling cooperative and considerate behavior with peers is a way of working against a culture of cruelty. As a supervisor, intervening against cruel or antisocial behavior is an ethical responsibility in my opinion.
The politics of fear in America have many side effects. One unfortunate side effect is the obvious hesitancy of people in public situations to engage with strangers. This generalized social isolation is destructive to the fiber of social cooperation and consideration. It makes open expression of compassion a rare commodity. And, it makes each of us more vulnerable to the cruelty of others.