Connecting with the origins of cruelty

September 28, 2020

crueltyThe cruelty in the world is unbearable to those of us who feel things deeply. Personal and societal, it’s all the same. Cruelty is cruelty.

More often than not, cruelty is unintentional. That’s not always the case, but it is absolutely true that when people are treated cruelly, especially as children, they will often act that way themselves. They might not even realize it and even if pointed out to them, they might not see it.

Anyone who knows anything about the history of that awful man in the Oval knows the cruelty that he saw growing up. The family was dysfunctional in critical ways, ways that influenced not only the family, itself, but now, our entire country. It is a cruel administration, perhaps the cruelest in our history.

Bringing cruelty down to a micro level, I’ve been able to observe thoughtlessly cruel behavior up close and since I know enough background (although not all of it)  I can identify the source of the cruelty and dysfunction. I have some level of “understanding.”

Say what you will about 70s guru Werner Erhard (would you believe he is now 85 years old?), but he said something so brilliantly on point that I’ve remembered it for decades:

“Understanding is the booby prize.”

That is, we can “get” all the reasons why, but they really don’t matter. What matters is the behavior.  Far too often, understanding does not precede behavior change.

We can understand some of the reasons why that awful man in the oval office is the way he is, but it doesn’t change a single thing.

We can understand why the cruel people we know are that way, but it gets us nowhere. They are still cruel.

I am a big believer in therapy but I do not believe in spending years going after the objective of “discovering why” –simply because I have learned that Erhard was right all along: Understanding IS the booby prize.

And we are living with that fact every single day.


2 comments on “Connecting with the origins of cruelty
  1. Beth Havey says:

    Wow, this is profound and though it took me a minute, so true. We understand now all the things we guessed from the beginning, but it is the booby prize, because what can we do about it. How can we undo what has been done. Maybe over time. But only if cruelly leaves the hearts of followers. Are all these people the products of awful parenting, bad relationships, terrible education?

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