A few years ago, now, I received a totally unexpected package from a fellow writer named Sue Hartigan, whom I’d met through a couple of the many on-line lists to which I belong. Sue's posts were unerringly charming, caring, and cheerful. We both had battled cancer. I had won my fight; she was still struggling with hers. We corresponded a few times as kindred spirits.
When I opened the package, I found a delightful little ceramic statuette of two cats snuggling atop a book. I can’t describe how touched by and appreciative of this small act of gratuitous kindness I was. I have the statuette directly to one side of my computer monitor and it serves as a daily reminder of how very much even a small act of kindness can mean. It has an even more poignancy for me now, since Sue lost her battle.
It also reminds me, should I ever forget it, that I’m sometimes not a very nice person. I am far too self-absorbed (which you may have noticed from my blogs), often thoughtless, too quick to judge, too quick to speak and too slow to listen, too often petty. I do not express my appreciation for things or people nearly as often or as strongly as I should, have not one scintilla of patience, and do not suffer those I consider fools gladly. I often disappoint, embarrass, and shame myself by falling so short of being the person I—and others—expect me to be. My temper frequently has a very short fuse. I have rock-bound opinions and attitudes which I would never tolerate in others, and I’m sure drive those around me to distraction.
And yet for all this, I have never knowingly, deliberately set out to hurt anyone. To cheat or rob or take unfair advantage of another human being is truly incomprehensible to me. That there are so many people who seem to go out of their way to inconvenience or harm others, who are incapable of common courtesy, let alone respect, care, concern, or compassion for anyone but themselves astonishes and deeply saddens me. I would, had I the chance, gladly pass judgement on these people, and it would be harsh indeed—which, it could be argued, would make me no better than them.
People who take obvious pleasure in duping and swindling others without one single thought or qualm about the effect of their actions deserve a special place in Hell. (Granted, I also cannot comprehend how so many people can be so gullible as to fall for these schemes.) Politicians who represent their own interests over the people they were elected to serve, religious leaders who preach hatred and bigotry make me truly despair for the future of humanity.
It could be argued that predators and prey are part of the balance of nature, and that since man is biologically an animal, we are subject to that same balance. The Nigerian barrister offering complete strangers millions of dollars is no different than a lion in wait by a waterhole for a passing gazelle. The hucksters, shills, and con artists who flood every email “in” box are merely piranha waiting for something living to fall into the water.
Among humans, those without common sense are natural prey for those without morals, conscience, or scruples. But it is axiomatic that without an ample supply of prey, the predators would have nothing to feed on, and both groups, sadly, seem to be increasing exponentially.
Man is the only animal with a concept of the future and the ability to shape it. I can be better than I am; we can be better than we are. The question is, are we willing to put forth the effort? I find it infinitely disheartening to realize that, from even a cursory look at the world around us, the answer seems to be “no.”
Well, I’m not the rest of the world. I’m me. And I can try to be better. Hey, it’s a start.
Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to check out his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1).