Cruelty Sickness: Our shared fatigue after four ferocious years of the ongoing Culture War
I am a collector of stories. I watch people, I listen closely to them, I eavesdrop on their conversations in person and on social media, and I look for the patterns to try and understand what’s happening to us as a nation. I’ve tried to put my finger on how I’m feeling lately, how I think so many of us are feeling out there.
It isn’t outrage. We’ve been there for a while now if we’ve been paying attention at all. It isn’t anger. That’s familiar territory for people whose eyes have been open to the ugliness. It’s isn’t grief. We have collectively and individually mourned for years at this point.
It’s something else. I think it’s exhaustion.
I sense a corporate emotional weariness in kind people these days, the accumulated scar tissue created when you’ve absorbed more bad news, predatory behavior, and attacks on decency than your reserves can manage. Sustained cruelty will do that to the human soul.
There’s only so much contempt for humanity our minds are able process, until one day something snaps and we lose the ability to respond with the same urgency and resilience we once had. A low-grade hopelessness sets in, slowly replacing our activism with apathy and one day rendering us immobile: cruelty sickness.
Prolonged exposure to this kind of seemingly tireless barbarism begins to rob us of energy, to dishearten us to the point that we stop caring and opt out. This is of course, by design. That is what those manufacturing this incessant enmity are counting on.
The fatigue of decent humans is the plan: inundate us with a million tiny crises, assail us with countless daily culture war battles, and batter us with endless legislative assaults — until we are gradually but decidedly crushed beneath the weight of it all. Eventually, we succumb to the numerous wounds of their boundless hatred, the suffering of those they victimize, and a steady stream of the unanswerable questions about how and why human beings can be this perpetually cruel.
Maybe it’s a bit of necessary resting after the the last four ferocious years, perhaps an understandable emotional letdown afforded by the arrival of an adult human president and the feeling that we are not in a continual state of imminent threat from our government, or maybe it’s the welcome distraction of passing through the worst of a brutal year in isolation — but it feels as though our collective passions are waning and we cannot afford this.
So what do we do? What do kind people who are sickened by cruelty do to get well? We tether ourselves to one another. Now, more than ever, good and tired people need to cultivate community, to stay connected to our tribes of affinity, and to carry one another through the fatigue when it comes.
We fill in the gaps among us, and we let those of us who feel strong enough today to engage the fight for those who need to catch their breathe and renew their strength.
We surround ourselves with people who value us not only for the work we do and the causes we support, but for the inherently vulnerable beings with finite resources that we are; those who demand that we rest and encourage us to play and give us space to pause — so that we are not consumed by the brutality of the day.
Community is an elixir for the soul, and we need such good togetherness medicine more than ever, because we are exposed to more toxic trauma than we’ve ever been, and because the war against disparate humanity isn’t going anywhere.
Injustice, inequity, discrimination, and suffering are hazardous to the hearts of good people and they should be. They will make us rightly sick and so we have to keep one another well. Stay together, stay alive, and stay kind, friends.
The original version of this Op Ed was published on johnpavlovitz.com