I’ve decided that the worst thing a human being can do to another is treat the other with indifference. We have this innate need to connect with others, and we will often do really stupid things to make that connection.
Last night I was reading about how we are wired to expect reciprocity in our social relationships. The expectation that what we do will be rewarded or punished in some equivalent way is fundamental to functioning as a society. We will often go to great lengths to get something in return, and sometimes even some nebulous promise of future reward will get us to sacrifice everything we have (many religions count on that).
But what happens when we get nothing in return? We’ve all seen children act out because getting a parent angry at them is better than having the parent ignore them. But the cruelest parent will simply ignore the child.
A friend of mine once said that Mormonism was the only corporation he knew of whose product was of absolutely no benefit to its customers. Mormonism trades on people’s need to belong and to have value; Mormonism tells its adherents that they need the religion to be happy and fulfilled. But the promise is an empty one, and you find out eventually that the church really doesn’t care much about its members, as long as they are contributing.
I know a man who is in an indifferent marriage. Not long ago he confronted his wife over his pain in struggling through every day alone. He told her he was fighting every day not to kill himself. She replied that she expected him home at a certain time to care for the children and then turned back to her computer monitor and her work.
The irony is that she probably didn’t think much of it at all; she probably felt no particular malice. Just indifference. And that’s the cruelest of human emotions.