On Cruelty and Vulnerability
Updated: Jan 9
I have always been a very sensitive person. As a kid, I would avoid reading the newspaper because news of suffering in wars, murders and rapes would keep me up the whole night in tears as my sister slept soundly beside me. In the morning, I would struggle to wake up, and end up getting scolded almost everyday for creating chaos before the school bus picked me up.
I didn’t know how to share with anyone what was going on in my little head. My sister seemed completely normal—she wouldn’t even cry in the soppiest of movies. My parents were the next option, and although they were always very encouraging and friendly, I simply did not know how to tell them that I stay up most nights crying over the cruelty in the world.
School provided a lot of respite to me—during school hours it seemed almost as if I was in another world. I loved being in school, mostly because I really liked all my teachers, always had enough to occupy me with, and really appreciated the overall ethos and culture we had. There was a clear dissonance between who I was at school and who I turned into at home. Here, I was a hustler. I wanted to do well at everything, from studies to art to sports. I wanted to participate in everything, and make the most of literally any opportunity that came my way. I guess it was because I knew my days were only six hours long, and not twenty-four. I had many friends in school, but I was never able to fully open up to anyone about who I really was and who I turned into as soon as school was over.
When I ended up in law school, something changed. The bubble burst. The hours spent in college actually seemed as bad as the hours spent in my room. For someone coming from an environment where kindness and cooperation was prioritised, this environment where people only idolised achievement, however unhealthy the means, seemed almost repulsive. I was severely discomfited to know that a lot of the people around me, though brilliant and motivated, often did not have minimal regard for fellow human beings. I was told that this is just how the real world is, and even more so, how the real world is in a profession like law and in a ‘top-class’ educational institution.
I considered leaving for almost 2 years. At one point, I almost did. I think ultimately I was just too scared of voluntarily attaching the coward label to myself. How could I run away just because life here seemed hard? But college turned out to be a double edged sword—though I had to live through five years of literally feeling claustrophobic all the time, I ended up finally finding people I could cry a river to. Not one, not two but multiple friends who were sensitive, sympathetic, understanding and accepting of the deeply sad person I was. I could finally pour my heart out and have someone help me. To be clear, this wasn’t depression, it was simply (and still is) a personality trait that I could finally tell someone about. I knew that there were finally people who knew me whole. And that felt like being seen, and being included.
But because of where my sensitivity was taking me, work wise, I often had to directly confront the kind of information I used to run away from, once upon a time. At this point, I thought I could either shut the door to it completely, by taking up a corporate job; or continue to find work related to human rights, even though that often meant deliberately seeking out information in the course of work that was bound to upset me. I don’t know how I made this choice—I guess it was mostly because I knew I couldn’t shake off a personality trait that was stuck under my skin, but I turned away from being the kid who used to avoid the newspaper. I was sensitive, I am sensitive and I will always be sensitive. An office job that doesn’t involve helping a vulnerable person out in any way will never make me happy.
I’m writing this today because while researching on the Lord’s Resistance Army this afternoon, I found myself in the bathroom crying once again over the things they make children do to turn them into child soldiers. I’m still that ten year old who cannot escape the grief, but I’m also a twenty-four year old who has accepted this part of her personality and has plucked up the courage to confront it and try to do something about it. I don’t even try to control my tears anymore. I find reason to applaud myself on the fact that after that session of crying, I’m able to return to my desk and continue my research. I find reason to applaud myself for the fact that my own grief doesn’t stop me from wanting to know more about the problem.
And this is what I’ve learnt about cruelty and my own vulnerability—the two are real, the two will exist; so I will cry, and still, I will do everything I can, because I care. I want to be kind, and I want to help.
Be kind, be kind, be kind. There is too much cruelty, and not enough kindness in the world.