October 5, 2011
“The thoughtless cruelty of the young.”
I don’t recall where or when I read that phrase, but it stuck for some reason.
I do not by any stretch of credulity imagine that only the young are thoughtlessly cruel.
I experienced this act today. I think it must be the first time, as it affected me strongly. Being me, I immediately set about analysing why.
It seems that there are two distinct requirements for this category. People are rude, say hurtful things, do hurtful things all the time. Deliberate or inadvertent, but it’s part of life. Cruelty is deliberate infliction of pain and suffering. It also carries a connotation of power against a victim. Even the weather can be cruel: an apt metaphor at times.
Thoughtless cruelty, then is an unintentional act or speech that causes great harm to its victim. Thoughtless in both senses: without premeditation, but also without any consideration of consequences.
It is distinguished from ordinary rudeness by the obliviousness of the agent. They do not intend rudeness. They are only making an observation, or performing an act — one that they see as harmless. They are without intent to harm; they do not consider the effect of their act.
The cruelty is determined by the reaction of the target. What seems cruel to me might be laughed off by another. It is highly personal.
I suspect the phrase originated in the arrogance — at times endearing, at times maddening — of youth, before the responsibilities and realities of life temper enthusiasms, shrink the amplitudes of their emotional ups and downs.
Generalizing. I don’t like it, but it has some use as a starting point for considering an issue.
Youth are, by their very freedom from responsibility, as a group, more likely to speak their thoughts without stopping to speculate consequences. Just as they are more likely to be activists, passionately devoted to causes and perceived imperatives.
We need that enthusiasm. Again, it is not that energy, that tight-focused world-view I am criticising. In fact, I’m not criticizing anything.
I’m only commenting that I have learned what thoughtless cruelty means. And it was not a pleasant lesson.