Don't Be Cruel to a Heart That's True

Don't Be Cruel to a Heart That's True

At first glance, the year 2020 had few positives. The chaos the pandemic added to the normal chaos in the world made the year one I won’t soon forget (although I’m trying hard to forget).

However, that’s a broad-brush assessment designed to garner some head shaking and echoes of “Amen.” What’s truer about 2020 is that it provided some unique opportunities which, in hindsight, were tremendous blessings.

One of those blessings for me was learning about Steve and Dorthy Halley’s work through their company, Family Peace Initiative (FPI). As Licensed Master Social Workers, their work for nearly 30 years has centered on running batterers intervention programs (BIP). In other words, they help people who have been involved in committing domestic violence against a spouse or partner.

They also train other counselors to facilitate their own BIP programs using FPI’s outstanding program, “The Art of Facilitation.” Last year I attended this course in order to help Steve and Dorthy assess whether the framework could be helpful to law enforcement officers seeking to build trust with their communities, with their peers, and with themselves.

It didn’t take long before I knew this program had significant relevance. In full disclosure, I am working with them to develop a course designed to help peer support specialists within the law enforcement community be better equipped to help their fellow officers.

As I look back over the events of last year, meeting Steve and Dorthy and attending their Art of Facilitation course was one of those opportunities I now see was a great blessing of 2020.

Another blessing was learning that what often keeps people from deeply or truly connecting with their communities, peers, and partners is cruelty.

I learned from Steve and Dorthy that I not only experienced cruelty in my life, but I was also equally guilty of being cruel towards others – particularly those whom I said I loved.

Now, you may be asking yourself, “Are you saying you committed domestic violence?” No. But that’s the problem, isn’t it? We have been conditioned to think that cruelty only involves physical or verbal abuse. We have an image in our mind of what constitutes bad behavior. Yes, the overtness of some actions are obviously and inherently cruel. However, the subtleties and microaggressions of cruelty extend far and wide. The blessing comes in being taught the extent of cruel behaviors and still having time left in life to make changes.

When we realize the extent of our cruelty (or the River of Cruelty as the Halley’s explain it), then we realize that our ability to build trust and be good leaders is greatly hindered.

Make no mistake, our use of cruelty is a direct result of the trauma experienced in our lives. We are cruel to others because someone was first cruel to us.

We weren’t born to be cruel; we were taught cruelty.

FPI defines cruelty as, “the intentional infliction of pain and/or suffering on someone, and the blatant disregard of another.”

I would like to argue that the definition should be expanded to include the “unintentional infliction of pain.” The problem with the expansion is it lets me off the hook for my actions. If I can just say, “I didn’t mean it; I don’t know what came over me; It wasn’t my intention to hurt you,” then there is no reason for me to change. I can, therefore, justify my actions or, worse, blame you for the cause of my actions!

Here are a few ways I learned from FPI on how people are cruel towards others. These have applications to the workplace, not just domestic violence. I wish I had fully appreciated these concepts then when I wrote these two articles on issues dealing with the workplace (here and here). But important and heavy issues sometimes take months, maybe years, to fully appreciate.

  1. Avoiding personal responsibility
  2. Believing saying, “I’m sorry,” is all that’s necessary
  3. Critical of others
  4. Highly judgmental
  5. Using passive-aggressive behavior
  6. Calling people names
  7. Humiliation
  8. Using our relationships with one person against another
  9. Measuring a person’s worth by their sexual appeal
  10. Expecting a person to be perfect

Why are these cruel behaviors? Because I am intentionally taking an action against someone else because of my own insecurities, traumas, or cruelties. My goal by engaging in these actions is to make you feel unimportant, insignificant, or inconsequential.

In essence, I have to tear you down in order to build me up. How sad is that?

The list can go on and on. While working with FPI, I’ve seen lists of cruel behaviors related to sexual abuse number as high as 45 or 50 distinct items. Wow. Without help, we can be cruel people.

In order to stop being cruel, we must learn to be at peace with ourselves. We must realize that the hateful and hurtful messages we heard as children do not define who we are or who we can be. When we are willing to fully explore the concept of self-awareness and understand that what shaped our past does not have to define our future, we can be the leaders, partners, and friends we all want to be.

When it comes to leadership, we have the ability to be the effective and transformational leaders we want to be and that people demand us to be. However, extending the FPI analogy, we have to step out of the River of Cruelty that rushes past us in a torrent every minute of the day and step onto dry land where we can find safety and stability.

We have to be able to demonstrate through our actions (i.e., provide evidence) that we are trustworthy – worthy of someone else’s trust.

Instead of being cruel, let’s make the shift (which can be painful) to a place of peace highlighted by these characteristics:

  1. Doing what you say you are going to do
  2. Not accepting other people’s dishonesty, denial, or blame
  3. Acknowledging the impact of our cruelty on others
  4. Communicating and setting healthy boundaries
  5. Valuing other people’s interests
  6. Supporting other people’s dreams
  7. Treating people with respect
  8. Understanding the harmful impact of objectification
  9. Respectful problem solving

Engaging in behavior that is cruel actually speaks towards our integrity as an individual. If we want to be trustworthy and a people of integrity, we must work towards relationships that uplift and edify, not degrade and destroy.

  • “Cruelty towards others is always also cruelty towards ourselves.” – Paul Tillich

Today, let’s be people of integrity, and let’s do the work of good leaders.

  • “The most important persuasion tool you have in your entire arsenal is integrity.” -Zig Ziglar

To learn more about the work and training of the Family Peace Initiative, please visit their webpage: