A few weeks ago, I had the misfortune of meeting a truly loathsome and vile old man. The most egregious things that I know he’s done is defraud two of his family members out of their homes. I wasn’t okay with this. When I was asked to help a family member move, I found out that this guy would also be there to help. For most of the day, I was able to avoid him and not say anything. Then, when he was lying to my family member in front of me, I couldn’t take any more.
I blew up at him. I called him a liar and a cheat. I asked him if he could prove any of the stupid things he’d said that day. What struck me as odd was that he didn’t defend himself. He couldn’t even pretend that what I was saying wasn’t true. It infuriated me even more. Here was this seventy year old man who only had the spine to hurt people who wouldn’t fight back. Until that point, I thought I’d seen cowardice in others. That day, I encountered it in its purest form. All of his behavior pointed to a person that knew what he was doing was wrong, and that he hid behind the goodness of society to prey upon it.
After I blew up at him, I apologized to his family member for doing so. I don’t enjoy blowing up at people, least of all because it’s rude. It’s basically a panic attack that gets directed at someone. Those attacks are not healthy for me, and considering his behavior, I was almost worked up to the point of wanting to physically hurt him. All I knew was that he was still going to try to injure people I cared about – he was just going to wait until I wasn’t there.
Encountering this guy reminds me that doing the right thing isn’t easy.
Proponents of cosmic justice like to say that people like him are going to get what they deserve. In the meantime, they’re free to visit their terrible behavior on everyone they meet. To me, this isn’t a desirable state of affairs. People need to have a better option than imagining a wrongdoer in pain.
But I also realized that it takes a lot for people to confront a monster, even when that monster is an open and obvious one. People try to get along with each other. We form groups of mutual interests and shared values. Living outside the group is dangerous, and evolution has wired us to generally seek the protection of the tribe. That mentality forgives even parasites who leech from a group and potentially ruin it from within.
Compounding all of this is the difficulty in even figuring out what the right thing even is. What should be done about him? Should he be ignored? Won’t that just let him find new victims? I only know what he’s done because he’s done it directly to the people I know. He might have done worse to others, and I have no idea the extent of the lives he might have ruined.
Right now, people I care about have lost some money, and they’ve been forced to relocate. They were able to protect themselves from more loss, but that doesn’t comfort me as much as it probably should. The question that plagues me is: what is he doing to others? I have known lesser versions of people like him in the past, and seen examples of them in the news. There is almost always a pattern of behavior. Who speaks up for them?
The bigger question doesn’t have a good answer, either.
Sometimes doing the right thing isn’t even a good thing. It won’t always make anyone happy. In this case, I have to respect family wishes and let the matter drop. If I come across anyone else hurt by the guy, I won’t keep quiet. Bullies and cheats like him need everyone to stay silent in order to thrive. It’s fair warning and supporting others which limits their ability to harm others.