Not for the first time, I recall sitting on a Cape Cod beach chatting idly with my (half-) sister, a social worker and my favorite family member. Her kids were little then and she was talking about the touchy-feely approach schools can take towards their charges.
"It drives me nuts," she said without venom, "when a physical confrontation inspires a teacher to say, 'Johnny, why do you think you hit Peter?' instead of just, 'Johnny, DON'T hit Peter.'"
As a social worker and an intelligent person, it wasn't that my sister was ignorant of the deeper wells from which actions emerge. It was just that she despaired of those who could not face a situation head-on and make an honest decision. Right, wrong or indifferent, "No!" There might be time enough later for lounge-chair dissections and putative kindnesses.
How often does this occur in the adult world? Sometimes, in my cranikier moments, I think quite a lot.
As for example when those concerned with spiritual life or morality use what they may describe as "loving kindness" or "compassion" as sweet camouflage when assessing or addressing a track record of unkind acts. "Let's give him or her time to reflect on his or her latest misdeed. Let's not be the first to cast the first stone. Let's speak softly and with kindness and ...."
And the track record speaks for itself. Where a simple bitchslap is clearly warranted, the situation is given leave to flourish because the onlooker would prefer to be well-thought-of ... kind and considerate and thoughtful.
This is a morality of sleaziness ... and lord knows I have been a sleazeball in my time.
What is so awful about being wrong? Lord knows I have done it in the past and survived ... and more than that, learned a little from some egregious mistakes. Using morality or spiritual aspirations as a means of donning pretty clothes is not the same as enjoying the fruits of morality or spiritual life.
Somewhere I heard that the Christians have a perfectly acceptable prayer that goes, "Dear Lord, please give him or her a swift kick in the ass!"
And when God is not available, perhaps the next best thing is to exercise a healthy capacity for ass-kicking.
Will anyone -- even the most moral soul -- have to pay the piper for exercising the capacity to say "no?"
Absolutely. But paying the piper is what human beings do all the time. No good deed goes unpunished. And if a bitchslap will put a crimp in a track record of unkindness -- if it will send Johnny the message loud and clear -- then I think it is worth it.
Time enough to pay the piper. Time enough to enjoy the fruits of morality and spiritual life.