How You Could Ruin Someone’s Day or Life – Free Ebook

A lot of evil is done in the world by people  

who can’t imagine that they 
have any power to hurt anyone.  

It’s their sense that nothing is at stake in their 
behaviour towards others that leads them to ignore  

the rules of politeness and humanity – and to 
kick people as if they were plated in armour.

They are – in this respect – 
paying homage to childhood.  

Think of the situation of a young child, of 
perhaps six, who has fun mocking a parent’s  

double chin or the wrinkles around their eyes. 
To this child, the parent is still, in many ways,  

an invulnerable deity. They live in 
a remote, impressive world of work,  

credit cards, driving and the news. How could 
someone of such stature be hurt by a comment  

about their less than perfect physique by 
a tiny person who can’t spell properly?

But the child is missing the point. Their 
words do hurt. They can make their parents cry  

(in private). The child simply can’t grasp how 
desperate and anxious their parent might be,  

how every morning they might stare in dismay 
into the bathroom mirror at the visible signs  

of ageing that speak to them relentlessly of a 
wrongly lived-life. The parent, out of dignified  

generosity, has shielded their child from their 
own fragility. And now their child is paying  

them a beautiful if misguided, compliment: 
a belief that they are beyond suffering.

Something related may happen when employees get 
together to gossip about the person they work for.  

In their imagination, the boss is so far above 
them that it couldn’t possibly matter what they  

say about them. It’s only when they themselves 
move to senior positions that they start to  

realise how vulnerable the person in charge might 
feel, how completely normal it is to want to be  

liked (even if you have a seat on the board) 
and how imperfect your self-esteem might be.

This idea casts a useful light on the activity 
of particularly dangerous people online.  

Their venom isn’t the expression 
of a feeling of power.  

Rather, the troll tends to feel like a medieval 
vagabond outside a heavily fortified city,  

hurling insults and threats at what 
they take to be comfortable inhabitants  

sleeping behind meters of stone walls lined 
by vigilant troops. They want to hurt,  

but they don’t in any way actually imagine they 
can; that is what renders them quite so vicious.

True kindness may require us to take 
on board a very unfamiliar idea:  

however young we are, however 
forgotten and ignored we feel we are,  

we have a power to cause other people serious 
damage. It isn’t because we aren’t wealthy or  

revered in elite circles that we thereby lose a 
capacity either to comfort or to wound strangers.  

We become properly moral, and properly adult, when 
we understand that we may all, whoever we may be,  

ruin someone’s day, and on occasion, through a 
few incautious and misplaced words, their life.

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