THE MILK OF HUMAN KINDNESS
Once the milk of human kindness turned rancid. 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 searching the Web for guns. When public opinion researchers asked the reason for this turnabout, the response never varied: “It’s all about morals.” “Morals?” researchers might then ask in order to gain a fuller sense of public thinking. “Yeah, their sort don’t have any!” a passerby might suddenly shout. “What?” would come the equally loud repost. “My sort doesn’t have any? Just the only morality that counts is all!” From that point on, crowds would rapidly gather and raise their own voices in supportive abuse. Regardless of the origin of any discord of this sort, it always deteriorated into charges that the other side was utterly immoral, as if this were a death blow. Instead of being a death blow, such charges merely prompted the opposing side to make wilder accusations that their hypocritical opponents presented themselves as having firm moral bearings when it was clear they had none whatsoever and were utterly despicable. To hear these dueling insults, one might well think half the nation was convulsed with disgust for the other half, which felt much the same in return. And soon merely condemning your 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 their own streets or in front of their own homes was deemed far more urgent, morality-wise. The most rancorous dispute of all, it soon became clear, was over kindness to others as an essential component of moral thought and 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 possible. No, the true problem lay in the insistence by both sides that kindness itself must be seen as an eternal absolute: an unquestioned, universal ideal high above the messy complexities of real people’s striving to treat one another with basic human dignity and good will day in and day out. It was vital to everybody involved in these ongoing quarrels, therefore, to preserve this pure and eternal kindness with a capital “K” from being contaminated by the corrupted version of it being cynically advanced by the opposition. Who knew, each side screamed in turn, where such moral fuzziness was apt to lead? Nothing less than the ethical 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. What would it take for people to replace Kindness that separated them with kindness that unified them? A pandemic?
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans