How much of our kindness is skin deep?
Published 17/11/2015 | 00:00
On Saturday I was out walking with a friend.
We were walking along a road heading for a turn-off, which would take us to a reservoir. It seems we missed our turn and were heading further and further away from the reservoir. There was more traffic on the road than was comfortable, along with that I had my dog with me. It was raining too. The ingredients were not the best.
I was too lazy to take my map out of my bag so eventually John decided to call to a house and ask for directions. Externally it looked a well-kept house and the gardens were finely manicured.
Suddenly I heard loud screaming and roaring. Just as John opened the garden gate to go up to the house a man appeared, and shouting, warned John not to open his gate and told him in no uncertain terms to be off with himself. John is a gentle person, far gentler than I am, so he simply explained he was looking for directions and closed the gate behind him.
The moment I heard the shouting and roaring I was about to shout back at the man and tell him to cop on to himself. Within milliseconds I found myself agitated and wanted to give this man a piece of my mind. How dare he shout and roar like that? And then I suddenly stopped and made a quick decision to say nothing. Not a word. John crossed the road and we continued walking. We were both gob-smacked at the violent reaction of the man. We eventually found the correct road, made our way down to the reservoir and had a most pleasant afternoon's walk.
Of course we spent some time talking about the incident and we were both flabbergasted with the unprovoked verbal violence of the man. What made him behave in such a manner? Had he had some bad experience? Had his home been burgled? What would have happened had I responded to him and shouted back?
Most mornings, especially after weekends, we hear on radio about acts of violence that happen around the country. People being stabbed, shot, mugged, people being beaten up and left for dead on the side of the street. Much of it is drug related, more of it is drink inspired. Then there are the personal feuds. There are myriad reasons for people behaving in a violent manner.
On my first visit to New York I learned very quickly that it's a bad idea to make eye contact with people on the street. It seems to be getting to that stage in Ireland. Something I never dreamed could happen. Certainly walking around any city in Ireland, especially late in the evening one needs to have their wits about them. A wrong look, a wrong move could lead one into serious trouble.
What at all is that stream or fissure of violence that can so easily come alive in the human psyche? It can happen at an individual level and it can occur within a community or a nation. It's difficult to comprehend the violence and destruction the people of Syria are experiencing. On November 9, 1938 the Nazis unleashed their pogrom of violence on the Jews-something that continued for seven years.
How best to respond to violence? I'm inclined to think most times it's best to do nothing. But there are occasions when it has to be met head-on. Certainly on Saturday, for once I did the right thing. Said nothing and walked away. How much of our niceness and kindness is skin deep?