THE MILK OF HUMAN KINDNESS
Once the milk of human kindness curdled and turned sour. The speed of the change was breathtaking. Neighbors who’d been on the best of terms for years were one day in each other’s faces and the next day advertising on the Internet for hit men. When puzzled observers asked the reason for this turnabout, the invariable response was, “It’s all about morality.” “Morality?” the questioner might ask. “Yeah, they don’t have any,” a passerby would suddenly shout. “What’s that?” went the equally loud repost. “We don’t have any? Just the only kind that counts is all!” Regardless of the origin of any dispute, it always deteriorated into charges the other side was utterly immoral, as if this were the coup de grâce from which recovery was impossible. It never was the coup de grâce, though, but merely prompted the opposing side to make wilder accusations that their “shameless” opponents presented themselves as having firm moral bearings when it was clear they had none whatsoever and were utterly adrift. To hear these disputes, one must think half the nation was convulsed with a colicky disgust for the other half, which felt much the same visceral aversion in return. And soon merely condemning your own neighbor as the devil in disguise wasn’t enough; flying across the country to waive placards and hurl the same denunciation at perfect strangers on a public street or in front of their homes was deemed far more urgent, morality-wise. The most rancorous dispute of all was over kindness to others as an essential dictum of moral behavior. It wasn’t merely that the two sides couldn’t agree on a common definition of kindness to others or that the competing definitions seemed at times as far apart as life and death. No, the true problem lay in the insistence by both sides that kindness itself must be seen as an absolute: an unquestioned, universal ideal high above the messy complications of real people striving to treat one another with basic human dignity and good will day in and day out. It was vital to everybody involved, therefore, to preserve this pure and eternal kindness with a capital “K” from being contaminated by the rancid version of it being cynically advanced by the opposition. If people began mixing the one with the other, each side warned, who knew where such laxity was apt to lead? Nothing less than the health of the nation was at risk here. And that is how it happened that so many couldn’t stomach the kindness of others anymore.
Copyright © 2005 by Geoffrey Grosshans