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Commentary: Are We
Becoming More Hardhearted?
I commend Rev. Frank and Mary Hoffman, who have been working
tirelessly to make the world a more compassionate place. Despite their
efforts, and the efforts of many other compassionate people, I have to
agree with Rev. Frank’s recent observation that, in general, people
today seem to be more hard-hearted than in the recent past.
A perennial reason for hard-heartedness is the pursuit of well-being.
Over and above our basic biological needs, many of us seek a good
“lifestyle,” which includes tasty food, comfortable accommodations,
entertainment, and possessions that others admire. Obtaining these
objects of desire often directly or indirectly harms others, but humans
have proven very inventive at finding justifications for their
selfishness. Most commonly, they argue that the victims “don’t really
suffer” or that the suffering “doesn’t really matter.” Such willful
blindness to the truth has another name: hardness of heart.
There are surely other factors that contribute to hardness of heart.
I think another is that, in times of anxiety, people tend to revert to
rigid laws and codes of behavior they believe have provided security and
well-being in the past. Concurrently, they tend to become suspicious of
general principles that can sometimes be misrepresented or abused.
However, rigidity often results in harm to innocent individuals, and the
only way to countenance the resulting suffering is, with a hardened
heart, turning a blind eye. For example, if people believe that
“freeloaders” contribute heavily to economic malaise and that the
solution is to do away with welfare, there are many people whose
unemployment is not their fault who will be left unprotected. Indeed, a
hallmark of scapegoating is rigid application of “the law” or notions of
“purity” and contempt for those who encourage broader compassion and
mercy for despised individuals.
Contemporary hardness of heart is most obvious when it comes to
animal issues. No country has harmed more animals more egregiously than
the United States today. Though many, perhaps most, Americans describe
themselves as “animal lovers,” their daily food, clothing, entertaining,
and other choices belie their true disregard for animal welfare. We
cannot become a compassionate nation – and cannot find peace in our
souls or in our communities – as long as we endorse cruelty.
Hard-heartedness is incompatible with righteousness and justice.
Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.