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Examining The Concept Of Cruelty Philosophy Essay

“Cruelty is, perhaps the worst kind of sin….”

By G.K. Chesterton

“Cruelty is a part of nature, at least of human nature, but it is the one thing that seems unnatural to us”

By Robinson Jeffers

Every religion teaches Love and tolerance for others. Then why some people enjoy inflicting pain on others? Then when a person is suffering why we tend to ignore it? Why do we not offer help when we can?

All these questions can be answered by one word “Cruelty”

Cruel as a personality trait in humans could be easily associated as indifference to suffering or be able to inflict pain. If such actions are sustained in any environment, this could lead to differences amongst workers who are closely associated in a framework. Cruel methods of imposing suffering not necessarily involve violence but such traits in humans of indifferences towards others could worsen the work places.

For instance, if anyone needs help and another individual who is capable of helping him merely watches and enjoys his poor situation with mischievous amusement, then he is being cruel rather than violent.

A simple example to explain the term cruelty can be Child labour, small children’s working in factories when they should be studying and playing. Some people make others handicap so that they can be made to beg and can earn money for them. Even kicking a stray dog can be classified as an act of cruelty.

Also at times we see the person won’t act cruel until and unless given a freedom to do so. Neither the person nor the people around him have ever seen that side of him before that. A very good example of such traits surfacing is the Stanford Prison Break Experiment.

Conceptual Framework

Cruelty can be described as indifference to suffering, and even positive pleasure in inflicting it. If this is supported by a legal or social framework, then receives the name of perversion. Sadism can also be related to this form of action or concept.

In my words Cruel can be defined as inflicting pain or suffering on others with or without the feeling of pleasure. From what I understand of cruelty is inflicting pain on others but you may or may not necessarily enjoy it. The person who has been victimized will perceive the inflictor as a cruel person, may be the people near him as well but he might have to act that way due to certain pressures and constraints.

The term cruelty is often used in law and criminology with regard to the treatment of animals, children, spouses, and prisoners. When cruelty to animals is discussed, it often refers to unnecessary suffering. In criminal law, it refers to punishment, torture, victimization, draconian measures, and cruel and unusual punishment. In divorce cases, many jurisdictions permit a cause of action for cruel and inhumane treatment.

Cruel as behavior can be analyzed through various situations which are confronted in one form or another each day.

Situation one: Cruel as an attribute in individuals

Cruel individuals carry a sense of supremacy over subservient individuals who generally tend to put themselves as weaker forces of their respective work places. When feelings of extreme heartlessness exist in any workstation, it not only destabilizes the situation but may affect working capabilities of submissive sections of work places.

Situation two: Cruel as an obligation

This situation deviates the interpretation of word Cruel from what has been absorbed in humans as an attritibute to as a part of responsibility.

Let us look into the situation where police officials get cruel towards people bearing crimes. These officials are pressed to be cruel and brutal in case of a terror attack in any area. Though, thousands of innocent are killed but here being cruel is not as a part of their personal interest rather has come into force as a part of responsibility.

The consequences are breath-taking and furious but here individuals get down fulfilling the duties assigned. Here, though Violence has come into the picture and is one of the forms of being cruel but is totally different from the situation portrayed above. As a sense of responsibility, they are driven to adopt such ways to normalize things around us. This definition has more subtle representation of its own than what we have depicted above.

Review of Literature:

Many authors have defined cruelty and related with various acts such as bullying, torture, violence, etc.

Opinions of few of the authors’ are –

Randall, Peter. Bullying in Adulthood: Assessing the Bullies and Their Victims.

Author in this book has predominantly talked about the bullying that takes place at work with the help of cases.

He has defined bully as “Habitually cruel or overbearing, especially to smaller or weaker people.”

And bullying as “Bullying is the aggressive behaviour arising from the deliberate intent to cause physical or psychological distress to others.”

Also Ståle Einarsen distinguished between predatory and dispute-related bullying. Predatory bullying has been defined as an abuse of power by a stronger individual over a vulnerable person whose actions are not justified. Victims are targeted because they can be easily bullied by the bullies. Dispute-related bullying arises out of real or imagined grievances and is initiated by conflicts within the workplace.

Also, Peter has discussed about the attitude of victims. Whether the victims are just innocent people who are abused by the bullies or is it victims that bring difficulties that stimulates the hostile behaviour in bullies. He has portrayed bullying in light of a Human Aggression. How the bully grows u plays a significant role in the development of the bullying personality type. On a similar lines the personality type of victim has been discussed how he grows up, has he been bullied in other contexts like home, community.

Mayerfeld Jamie, In Defense of the Absolute Prohibition of Torture, Public Affairs Quarterly Volume 22, Number 2, April 2008

Here Jamie has portrayed torture as a form of cruelty. As per 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The UN Declaration against Torture, adopted by unanimous vote of the General Assembly in 1975, states that “any act of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is an offense to human dignity.”

Here the Jamie is talking about prohibition of torture. He is trying to show that the Ticking bomb situation is unreal

Ticking bomb situation is a thought experiment that has been used in the ethics debate over whether torture can ever be justified.

Zimbardo Philip, Stanford prison Experiment, 1971

DR. Philip Zimbardo, Ph.D., Stanford University conducted study of the psychological effects of becoming a prisoner or prison guard. The experiment was conducted in 1971. A mock jail made in the basement of the university and 24 undergraduates were made to live there as both gaurds and prisoners. Roles were assigned at random after checking that these candidates did not have any mental complications. The participants adapted to their roles well beyond what even Zimbardo himself expected, leading the guards to display authoritarian measures. The experiment even affected Zimbardo himself.

The experimented depicted how the people who were made to act as prisoners become obedient and the various emotions they went through and also how the guards took the authority and the side of them that was never seen before came up. Few of the students who were made to act as guards actually started to enjoy punishing the prisoners. Few of the prisoners broke down and had to be released early.

Empirical Studies

To study and understand Cruel as a behavior and the kind of traits the cruel people have and also the effect that this kind of behavior has on an Individual, I telephonically interviewed three people. One who is a victim of a cruel behavior, one who has to act cruel because of the nature of work he is in and thirdly a person who actually enjoys inflicting pain on others.

Situation one: Cruel as an attribute

Here, I have interviewed an individual working in an MNC who gets to face attitude from his colleague.

Q. Have you ever faced any form of cruel behavior from your colleagues or superiors?

A. Yes, I do have been facing this issue since last four months from a colleague who sits beside me.

Q. Is he your senior?

A. Yes he is my senior in the current project I’m associated with.

Q. Ok! What made you realize that he is being cruel towards you?

A. My colleague completely ignores me, never listens to what I say and it is very cruel. He never responds when I’m talking to him and never acknowledges my work. At first, I thought that he is quite dedicated towards his work so I tried to stay quiet. But when I approached him for some work related queries, he appeared to be indifferent towards me.

Q. How do you find his attitude towards other individuals of your work?

A. He is very well respected and liked throughout and shares a good rapport with other individuals of our project.

Q. What do you think is the possible reason of his indifference towards you?

A. We having same level of experience but he joined this project before I did. His insecurity could be a driving force behind his behavior.

Q. Did you approach anyone in your project citing this issue?? If yes, how did they advise you?

A. Yes, I approached one of my colleagues and he suggested me either to ignore this situation or to approach the manager as we depend on each other for help.

Q. So he approaches you for help and how do you react to that?

A. Yes, he does but rarely. I am through being polite and try to make the situation smooth.

Q. What do you think is the best possible way to settle down things?

A. I would try making situations amicable on my own but if things do not fall into their places, I would prefer approaching my manager to have a healthy discussion as we depend on each other and this could affect my work and my performance.

Q. And if your Manager doesn’t listen to what you have to say?

A. In that case I would try to get my project changed and if anything doesn’t happen I might look to change my job as it I difficult to work in a negative environment where you do not share a healthy relationship with your colleagues.

Situation Two: Cruel as a nature

Here, I have interviewed an individual who thoroughly enjoys himself bullying people.

Q. Have you ever made fun of others?

A. Yes, a lot. Everyone does. It is just good fun.

Q. Do those people also think it was just good fun?

A. Yes, they should enjoy. I mean I do and the people standing nearby also think. Anyhow, how does that matter as long as I have a good time.

Q. Can you please share any instance where you were having good fun but the person did not enjoy you making fun of him?

A. Well I had to take an interview of a sweeper to get some information regarding his salary and nature of his job. So I was just asking some questions like

Tell us the truth we won’t tell your salary to anyone

Whether you own a Mercedes??

How many wives you have??

How many flats you own??

You don’t own a bungalow just a one room apartment

You must be hiding something for us etc.

Q. Let’s assume a situation, say you have an ice cream and suddenly you see a small poor kid (may be a rag picker) staring at your ice cream. What will you do and why?

A. I’m going to scold him and ask him to run away, might threaten him that he will get a good beating if he doesn’t run away. This kid is not letting me enjoy my ice cream and you are asking why.

Q. What do you understand by the word cruel?

A. By Cruel, what I can perceive is one who is responsible for pain on others.

Q. What makes you behave in such a manner with other people?

A. I just enjoy their poor situation with impish entertainment and its fun.

Situation Three: Cruel as an obligation

In this case, I have interviewed a Managing Director of a factory who has his roots in printing industry.

Q. How long have you been in this industry?

A. I started my career with a small organization as an engineer. Today I’m a managing director of production in my organization.

Q. Could you please recollect some instances when you had to get cruel or harsh towards your subordinates?

A. Yes I have been harsh on my subordinates but my definition of cruel stands different.

Q. Ok! How do you define cruel then?

A. We managers are not cruel by choice, we are here by work and to get processes followed, we need to go beyond the conventional methods and follow different strategies to get our work done. Being cruel is what I can say is mere strategy.

Q. Very well said. Could you please help us with few examples from your work environment?

A. Yes Sure. In our factory, 9.00 am is the In-tine for workers, if they cross this deadline they need to ask supervisor to get in but there is limit to even which is 9.15 a.m. If even this is missed, matter then comes to me and I ask workers either to go back and or apply for a half day leave and decision is left to them.

Q. Is this strategy or an approach a viable one?

A. Yes it works out well. At least, they will make sure to be in time. If they aren’t dedicated towards work, what will encourage me to show my dedication towards them.

Q. What in case they are stuck with some genuine issue?

A. Everyone faces issues on day to day basis, but yes to understand the criticality and priority of the situation is important. If they face something very urgent, it’s their responsibility to keep us informed before hand of their being late to work and if I allow one person everybody will quote that instance and will try to get away with it. If I won’t allow them then I will be called a biased person so I can’t allow this to happen. So if somebody actually has some genuine problem he or she can apply for a half day.

Findings of the study and Generalization

Here, I have laid more emphasis on situation two in which people are cruel by their personal choice and not as an obligation, since duty performed in any way, contributes to the society.

Individuals perceive cruel attitude towards each other as they are pepped up by their inherent power to act in their own ways. They look for various ways of amusement to victimize others with unnecessary expressions of disapproval in order to express indirect praise for them and to minimize the possibility of becoming a target of disapproval, themselves. These states of positions naturally drive them to act cruel to other human beings. The submissive people usually find difficult to break this tension around them in order to protect themselves from more brutal environments. Hence, when these weaker individuals are unable to break the trend, they fall prey. The individuals who are being cruel do not understand or pretend not to see what the person they are making fun of is going through. The people who are nowhere part of the scene, who are neither victims nor victimizers, generally tend to enjoy a social environment created around them. These third party individuals tend to remain insensitive towards the whole scenario or they would simply deflect from victimizing as they recognize it as immoral.

Individual depicting cruelty as a trait doesn’t realize what they making the other person go through. At times they have been a bully all their life or might also become a bully at a later stage because of greater sense of freedom enjoyed.

For instance, every working adult has known one boss who loves making subordinates squirm, whose moods radiate through the office, sending workers scurrying for cover, whose very voice causes stomach muscles to clench and pulses to quicken. As a result of this attitude in subordinates, superiors are pepped up to be more of insensitive and cruel towards their juniors. This sense of fear in individuals creates a greater force in victimizers to act in their own ways.

Around the country, psychologists who study the dynamics of groups and organizations are discovering why cruel bosses thrive, how employees end up covering for managers they despise and under what conditions workers are most likely to confront and expose a bullying boss. According to many psychologists, cruel world tends to grow stronger as their subordinates make them act in their own directions.

The slavish attitude shown makes their bosses go more barbarous when they aren’t taking any pains to refrain themselves from being taken for granted.

On the other hand people who are being victimized at times develop a feeling for self pity and they actually do not want to overcome it. They do not retaliate and accept the cruel behavior of others towards them.

Implication of Group work

No working individual enjoys in an environment where his boss loves making his subordinates squirm. This attitude shown in the organizations towards subordinates can create a feeling of disinterest and dissatisfaction. Most of individuals tend to switch over or go to level of changing jobs when they are pressed over with insult and cruelties.

Many researchers tried exploring what drives bosses to be cruel and what effect does it carry over to the victims. The most common finding which answered the questions was most managers for the sake of sheer pleasure of exercising power tend to follow these ways. Or they would be looking for a scapegoat to carry the department or superiors’ frustrations.

The pattern followed in the organizations not only lead to undercut productivity but individuals find it difficult each morning to persuade themselves to go to offices and perform. But there do exist conscientious people, who keep doing the work they are paid for. One reason people keep doing extra in these abusive situations is to advance themselves at the expense of others. It makes them look good and the others look that much worse.

Hence, tyrants spread misery even though everything seems to fall in place, if looked from outside. Subordinates cannot approach Human Resource department to file a complaint as they know management in every possible situation tends to support their managers.

The brutal behavior goes unchallenged, and the target feels a sudden chill of isolation that is all too real. By doing nothing, even people who abhor the bullying become complicit in the behavior and find themselves supplying reasons to justify it.

The victims generally tend to adapt to situations through grousing sessions where they share miseries over lunch. This could help them feel better for a while but as well lead to first step in union to go beyond the conventional method of just accepting the facts straight.

Sociologists who study dissent in organizations find that these informal sessions generally show the paths to formation of unions in factories or small organizations leading to effective resistance created into individuals for their superiors.

Most of individuals tend to accept the situations but people who feel truly desperate and being afraid of losing their jobs tend to approach higher management and speak about the cruel behavior seen by them.

Most others learn to dance on the tunes of their superiors, trying to preserve their status while being careful not to give up their sense of decency, all the while looking for an escape hatch.

Contribution to OB

In any organization, one of the most difficult aspects of leadership is dealing with employee issues. Performance problems, lack of motivation, and even insubordination are issues that can adversely impact the entire organization.

We understand from third situation that a leader must cherish his ability to impact someone’s life for the better. A bit of well-placed criticism or discipline today can provide the life lesson for the employee so he will never again repeat the mistake. A little cruelty today may just provide the long term benefits that are much needed for effective & efficient achievement of business goals.

But at the same time we understand that an organization can do well and employer can win trust and commitment of his employees only if he avoids the irrational behaviour as bullying for fun sake as seen in the second situation or being indifferent towards an employee (due to personal reasons, insecurity, etc) as seen in the first situation. These do not do any good but only lead to negative feelings & dissatisfaction amongst employees which will only lead to declining productivity & sluggishness in the organization.

Thus we can ask a few more questions here, which can take this study forward like

Can such type of behavior depicted by bosses is acceptable?

If yes, then to what extent?

If not, then without acting in such a manner employees can be disciplined?

What kind of personalities does Victims depict?

What can be done to help out such people to come out of the feeling of self pity and act against the bullies?


The cruel behavior whether by choice or by obligation needs attention as it might affect society in one form or another.

The cruel by choice tends to be more harmful as it not only lead to undercut productivity but individuals find it difficult each day to perform which ultimately leads to discontent in the organization, impact of which could be fatal for its future endeavors. This attitude needs to be addressed as it directly impacts individuals as they are pin-pointed in every blame-game and they are deceived easily as they accept it.

The cruel attitude depicted also dwells in individuals as a sense of fulfillment of their duty and has got subtle impact as it is good for society if seen through broader view. It is neither by chance nor by choice, the officials turn cruel towards people. Today, there exist so many laws supporting the cruel behavior of officials in case of emergency or terror. Though its consequences turn out to be fatal, but these officials are incited to take an oath to serve the duties.

Not necessarily, an official carrying cruel attitude at his duty towards people bearing crimes will be cruel in his normal life. The work situations though definitely tend to affect one’s nature and personality but there exist individuals who carry out their professional life separately from their personal lives.

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