Recently, I came face to face with what I considered a cruel, heartless action on the part of someone. Am I correct in equating cruelty with evil? Could evil just be a higher degree of cruelty?

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I don't think anyone can decide that for you. Everyone has their own view of evil and I think we all come to it in different ways.

Personally, I don't believe in evil. Cruelty, sure. Surrounded by it every day. But evil is such a loaded word that I can't get behind it as a valid concept. It's so black and white and I don't think human experience really fits into something so simple.
heavy! but very well thought out. but surely, there is evil when one thinks of Manson, Hitler--didn't they go beyond cruel. or possibly they are the same things.
I often use the term "evil" to refer to people and actions but my husband always corrects me. Since neither of us believe in God and "evil" is basically a religious term, it's not a word I should be using, but it has so much more resonance than "cruelty" and conveys exactly what I want to say that I continue to use it. I always use the term evil to refer to gratuitous cruelty.
I agree with you. Cruelty doesn't seem to be a strong enough term. but I wonder why the word evil is construed with religion, yet it is. see your point.
Yes, Margot. I believe that as well. Perhaps there is a point that evil people make many of us think that the concept of evil is perpetuated by various religions. that in itself is an interesting thought.
Terrific answer. Really has me going. Angela! thank you so much for that. There are all sorts of factors, too that inhibit one's communications skills too. and I love the narcissim factor. Just picturing the object of my dislike at the moment. Yes, that is definitely a factor there! so glad you replied.
true! i've been writig like crazy since then actually. You're quite right Angela. i do think we learn things from bad experiences. and it's very good to use that angst for our creativity. thanks for that.
You could debate this endlessly. Is cruelty evil? Well, if you believe in evil, then cruelty might be evil. It might not always be evil, though. It's possible it could depend on the type of cruelty in question.

Personally, I believe in evil, but I don't believe in using the term casually. (I'm not saying you are! I'm just explaining...)

The reason I don't like using the term casually is that it's often seen as almost a way of removing blame from people for their actions. If someone is evil we just expect evil from them. They are, in that respect, beyond redemption. But if they're really evil can they be held accountable for their actions? It's simplistic to say child molesters are monsters... Sure, from one pov they are, but what if the child molester was molested as a child themselves? Does that mean they aren't evil anymore? How much does the reason a person acts a certain way factor into whether or not it's evil or they're evil?

I think the truth of the matter is that if we look back on our own lives we can all think of things we've done that were cruel. But evil? Not always. Sometimes, it's a case of repaying in kind. Sometimes, we didn't realize just how our actions were affecting someone. The result may have been extroardinarily cruel to them, but we didn't mean it that way. Here's an example. A girl I knew, a year younger than me in grade school. Poor family. Not popular. Picked on relentlessly. I was also picked on quite a bit in school, but I didn't know this girl too well. I was at the school after going to high school and she offered to let me borrow her hairbrush, because I didn't have one. I took a paper towel out of the dispenser to hold the brush. She started to cry, and not just cry a little, but heartwrenching. The thing was, I was just getting over pink eye, and so I was taking extreme caution when touching anything that went near my head... but she didn't know that. Imagine if I hadn't explained. She could have thought I was the cruelest person on the planet, when I only meant to make sure I didn't pass on pink eye.

One time when I was doing conference registration I made a slight error and made light of it saying I'd had a braindead moment and apologized. I ended up apologizing again because the person freaked on me for using the term 'braindead'. You know, my grandmother suffered permanent brain damage from an injury and it didn't really bug me, but my threshold isn't the same as another person's threshold. It's possible, in that respect, to say that some cruelty is in the eye of the beholder.

I know some people I consider to be cruel bordering on evil, but they're very good with their public persona, so until you're no longer useful to them they'd never give you a reason to know. But I don't discount it to evil - some people are just plain mean, callous, cruel people, and they're fully responsible for their behaviour.
Thanks for that! i see your point (s). Also the subjection of that sad little girl. It was so good that you explained! I like your last sentence because it happens to apply to this situation I had in mind. see, two reasons for the post. one was to vent some anger and the other was to geniunely see what others thought about cruelty and evil. I agree that there are just some really cruel people out there. and they are definitely responsible for their actions. and when they're in a position of power--! they can really have a field day. and yes, I think much of their cruelty borders on evil. thoughtless, mindless, disregard for other people's feelings. and here's a postcript you might find interesting, Sandra, my first husband was an abusive (verbally) alcoholic. i wasn't with him long, but he really affected me anyway and for quite a long time afterwards. spiritual wounds finally healed, but I think sometimes, they weep anyway. weep as in cry. i thank you for your reply. it's helped me to view this debate i started now from a position of maturity--not how i was more than twenty years ago. but i honestly wouldn't have thought about it if it hadn't been for your post.
all the best to you.
Hi Carole,

I'm sorry to hear of your situation with your ex-husband. I had left for the library just after posting, and am just home now, so my apologies for the delay in a response. I feel a bit guilty to have made you think of that... That type of abuse wounds, and scars. When I was a child I partially severed my right foot, had to learn to walk again, etc. Sometimes even now, all these year later, I'll get spasms that bring tears to my eyes. The pain can be unbearable, and it usually comes in a short burst, sometimes for no apparent reason. I can be sitting, standing, lying down in bed.

I guess it's a type of phantom pain. Whatever wounds us can come back to bother us, sometimes when we least expect it. Call it a sensitive spot, tender to the touch. You don't think about it 99.9% of the time, but sometimes you nudge it and it's back, if that makes any sense.

It breaks my heart to think back to that brush story, because I wish I'd been nicer to that girl. We could have been friends, and weren't. At the time I guess I thought I had my friends and didn't need more. Sad way to think, isn't it? Being a kid hardly excuses it either.

Oh Sandra! Never worry about a reply. It was late here and I was off to bed. Besides which. Don't feel guilty. I was glad I happened to think about "old wounds." Because it made me realise that I might actually over react to situations because of my past experiences! YOu sound like a lovely, caring intelligent person and it is a pleasure chatting here with you. You also sound like a very deeply caring person--in that you have never forgotten about that little girl in school (the one with the brush). Here's another slice of my life I think you might find interesting: when I left my husband, I wound up caring for my Mother who gradually declined in health--eventually winding up in a wheelchair. I took care of her for twelve years. It was difficult and quite frankly if I'm honest with myself, I can say now in retrospect--(she's been gone for 8 years) I was sometimes impatient probably. And i can't think about it because it hurts too much. She was a bit selfish, I realise that now. she didn't mean to be but she was. And i wasn't Mary Poppins either. I genuinely wanted to pay her back in kind for being a good parent, but I wanted my own life too. but I felt duty bound. I was an only child--there was no one else. she didn't want to go into a nursing home, she didn't even want to spend a day in a nice day care center, just so I could have a day to myself. But wait. I'm no angel either. I was bitter sometimes so I'm far from perfect. listen, we're going to have to make up for all this maudlin stuff (on my part) and talk about something really funny. I have some screamingly funny stories for you about my life and (mis) adventures! it's been so nice chatting like this! all the best!
Very interesting discussion. I'm in much the same position as you, still living with something that happened years ago, was totally unintentional on my part, yet hurt someone else. And it still bothers me, although it happened about twenty-five years ago. I was teaching at the City University, Expository English, and called on an Asian student who had raised his hand. I didn't understand his answer and asked him to repeat himself, which he did. I still didn't understand and tried one more time, and again, I couldn't understand him. I was very embarrassed for him and me and decided the best action was to move on to another student. At the end of the semester, another student, at conference, told me what I did was horrible (if he didn't use the word cruel, he certainly meant it). I explained to him what had happened and he left the conference a bit more comfortable with me, but I never saw the Asian student again and had no way of apologizing to him. And I still have no idea how I would handle that same situation today if it were to happen again. We often hurt or humiliate another person inadvertently and that person puts it down to cruelty, or whatever. One reason why decent people are perceived as being cruel is, I believe, directly attributable to ego. When one is protecting one's ego, it's difficult to think about the affect one is having on others, a sort of advertising of self that necessarily diminishes everyone else around them. And now that I said that, perhaps if I had been thinking of the student and not my own embarrassment, I might have handled the situation with more grace.


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