Red Deer in the Amsterdam Dune ReserveThis could be seen as the sequel to my previous post (The Loss of Innocence). However, be forewarned that it shows a more cynical, less understanding side of my nature. There are aspects of human behavior that I cannot – or will not – understand or condone.

I’ve always seen myself as an optimist. I tend to believe in a core of good in all human nature. As a counselor, people came to me who were damaged and fragile because of the circumstances surrounding their lives. They were motivated to find solutions and heal their wounds. Even when they were responsible for causing pain to others, I could find a spark of goodness and the will to change. I learned to accept their way of viewing the world without necessarily accepting their deeds.

This is an important point of view for people who are committed to supporting others. However, after closing the doors of my counseling practice, I was forced to admit that for each individual seeking support, there are hundreds of individuals who aren’t… and who really don’t care. A large portion of humankind (larger than I care to admit) is selfish, greedy, resistant to learning, or downright cruel.

In the course of my life I have made friends, as we all do, and sometimes I thought I had a deep and true friendship with someone. What a disillusionment to discover that, once I was no longer making use of their services or supporting them in some way, they would vanish out of my life and I would never hear from them again. I’m sorry to say that this happened most frequently in the more spiritual circles I’ve inhabited. If this is the true meaning of “Be the change you want to see in the world,” I’d hate to see what the world might become.

I was always taught, and I taught my children in turn, to forgive stupidity. Not everyone grows up in the privileged circumstances we did. It has, however, become more and more obvious to me that there are masses of people who willfully remain ignorant (blissful innocence?). Even to the point that we still see people denying that the earth is round and that life is an evolutionary process. The most recent political developments in the United States have shown us that these groups aren’t powerless. However, they are standing in the way of a solution to Earth’s sixth mass extinction event. These are moments that I wonder if humankind isn’t just another race of dinosaurs that needs to be wiped out in order to let life on Earth evolve to the next stage.

Political forces, always obeying their own rules, oblivious to individual wisdom, prevent true solutions. I was heartbroken to see the plight of Red Deer, trapped behind a high fence in the Amsterdam Dune Reserves. They multiply until there are too many to be sustainable. They destroy the landscape, eating all the vegetation and killing off the trees by eating their bark. And still, they are starving. The landscape is dying, and they are dying. A solution could be to let them loose to roam the way the Roe Deer roam in the same part of the country. But they cause car accidents and eat tulip bulbs (a major Dutch industry) and are generally inconvenient. So shooting them off until there are enough to ‘manage’ has been adopted as the most ‘expedient’ solution.

And then there is downright, incomprehensible, cruelty. A photographer friend recently told me this chilling story: She was in a nature reserve, sitting on the ground, happily photographing toadstools on a fallen tree trunk. A couple with a young child approached her. She only noticed them when they stopped to look at her. She looked up and caught the eye of the man. He looked back without saying anything. As she watched, he slowly raised his foot and scraped all the toadstools off the tree trunk with his boot. He then turned and moved on with his family, leaving my friend behind, deeply shocked.

We can endlessly discuss the why’s and wherefores’. Is it genetics? Is it society’s fault?  Are these all injured children? The truth is – and I find myself more willing to admit it the older I get – that there is greed, stupidity, selfishness, and cruelty in the world. It doesn’t matter how it got there. Maybe, if we are willing to admit this and admit our part in this, we can find a way forward.



  1. Mary-Lou Gillette

    Dear Maddi,
    We accept the words, “Nature is harsh but never cruel.” Cruelty represents intent to harm for reasons other than survival. It is impossible not to see that we humans are indeed intentionally harming this planet through our susceptibility to greed , avarice and ignorance. I share your dismay. It is shocking to watch the harsh scenes of nature, but it is balanced by knowledge and understanding of each creature’s right to exist as needed to survive. To observe human cruelty through words and deeds is worse than shocking, it is unbearable.
    I recently came across a quote, attributed to Abraham Lincoln…”Let us teach the children, so that we will not need to teach the adults”. I believe there are too many adults who missed those early teachings of having compassion for others. I was profoundly taught that lesson by my mother when she was treated very rudely by a clerk in a store. My mother never responded other than to finish her purchase without a word. Upon leaving the store I asked my mother why the lady had been so rude? My mother replied, “You never know what has happened to someone before they even get to work.” My mother also would often remind me of another saying; “Before you judge another, you must walk a mile in his/her shoes.” I was five years old, but I learned those lessons.

    • One more quick comment on this, Malou. I agree with Dr. B that Nature is harsh, but never cruel. Unfortunately, that doesn’t apply to humans. Humans are capable of being deliberately malicious, and the point I was making is that this isn’t necessarily due to the circumstances surriounding them. That’s what I meant when I said in my previous comment that there is such a thing as evil in the world. However, I agree with you both that we should do everything we can to treat all humans with compassion, even if we can’t feel understanding.

  2. A hard read, but also hard to refute.

    I wonder about the connection of two things we observe these days. First, this disconnected, delusional, misinformed cruelty and ignorance you reference; Second the “Last Child in the Woods” syndrome—people are less and less familiar with or comfortable in nature. If nature is an abstract: the province and concern of “tree-huggers” and “libtards,” then it can be dismissed. I wonder about the flat-earth folks—whether they have ever traveled enough to discover that they can reach New York by going west from California. But if you are insular, not curious, etc. . . . Well, you get the point. The compassion your mother demonstrated may be necessary. And so is gently (compassionately) engaging with these folks—trying to enlighten them.

  3. Thank you, Mary-Lou and James, for the reminder to stay compassionate. Even if the presence of ‘evil’ (by any other name) in the world is irrefutable, we should not let it change us.

  4. Your words are so true. Nature is never cruel but people are. There are people, I’ve met some, read about others, who are cruel, vindictive, mean, selfish, self centered & who show no care, understanding or compassion of others. I do not understand that attitude & unfortunately, it seems to be getting more prevalent & I find it so distressing.

  5. Mary-Lou Gillette

    Dear Maddi,
    Thank you for responding to our comments. I struggle with trying to understand people who seem to intentionally want to hurt others with words or actions. I grew up with a sister, ten years older than I who was cruel. My mother protected me from her by sending me to live summers with my grandparents at our summer cottage. By the time I was eight years old she was off to college. She died two years ago, alone and bitter, her adult children having refused to have anything to do with her following their younger brother’s decision to take his own life due to their mother’s cruelty. A few days after his death, my niece called me to say that she had just received a book that her brother had mailed to her entitled, “Will I Ever Be Good Enough?”
    My sister suffered from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Was she evil? My daughter is mentally ill, but with a gentle and kind nature, causing no harm to anyone but herself. I think we are seeing a dramatic increase in mental illness in our society. I would like to think we can learn to understand what is happening .

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