The news about the Wal-Mart worker has me thinking about evil and cruelty. Not in the grand sweeping sociology way. I’m thinking particularly about how excellent at cruelty I can be.

When I was younger I was a mean kind of cruel. God blessed me with a decent intellect and a quick draw ability to insult. And I used it. Often. You see, in my father’s house sarcasm and insults were mother’s milk. Six Irish boys and one girl all with thick skins and sharp tongues. The dinner table was like playing minor league hockey. Fast, fun, high scoring, inevitable fights, some penalties, and a lot of bruising.

Bringing people into our house for the first time, they were invariably stunned at how awful we were to each other. Their shock was shocking to us. It’s how we always dealt with each other.

And it’s still how my mind works today. I seek not only the weakness in your argument I seek the weakness in you. And I hit it. I hit it because I think you might hit me.

A well placed rhetorical jab can be deadly. I can think of incidents in the past where I’ve embarrassed other people with a clever remark, some dismantling of their comment. I’ve used it to make people fear me a little. It’s amazing how cruel you can be as long as you’re smiling. I learned quickly that it’s easier to get what you want when people are a little afraid of you.

I’ve worked over the years to curb my tongue because I’ve seen the damage it does. I’ve prayed and worked on it with varying success. I’m older now. Maybe softer. I don’t want my little girls to grow up to be thick-skinned gunslingers. So I try.
But I’m still far from good. In fact, I’ve noticed a whole different kind of cruel in myself too. This second kind of cruelty may be worse. It’s indifference.

I see it in myself when I’m busy with work and my child wants to sit on my lap and I tell them ‘not now.’ It’s when my wife wants to talk and I ignore her or just put her off saying ‘I’m busy’ and we’ll talk later. It’s my own home version of trampling. It’s saying to the people I love in the clearest way possible that something else is more important than you. And that’s about the cruelest thing I can think to tell someone who loves you.

Now we all saw the story about the mob of people who trampled and killed a man at Wal-Mart. They were on their way to get cheap Ipods and laptops. They didn’t mean to be cruel to the man. They didn’t know him at all. They were simply indifferent to him. He was simply an obstacle between them and what they wanted. Something else was more important than that man.

The more I delve into my Catholic faith the more I see that so much of it is pointing me towards not using others as a means to an end. I have come to see each life as valuable. Each person has an immortal soul. I think I sometimes forget that, not in the theoretical sense but in the practical daily “where the rubber meets the road” sense.

We meet so many people every day whose function in our life is our measure of them. Toll takers, cab drivers, fellow employees, strangers asking directions, friends, the guy who takes your lunch order, the man who empties the trash can, the children’s soccer coach. I think it’s easy to forget that each and every person we meet is a miracle. An immortal miracle. And nothing is more important than recognizing them as such. Not getting to work. Not blogging. Not working. Not plasma televisions. Not Ipods. Not anything.

We are surrounded by miracles. We would all do well to notice them more often.