Pay attention: there will be a test.
Picture a line segment, an abstract shape in space. The point at one end of the line is Altruism; the point at the other end is Cruelty.
Altruism, for the purpose of this discussion, is the capacity to take pleasure in making other people happy. Cruelty is the capacity to take pleasure in making other people miserable.
The people who exist at the extreme Altruism end of this spectrum are those who have no meanness in their souls. They are generous to a fault, kind, caring, compassionate. There aren’t many of them in the halls of power or corporate boardrooms. You tend to find them in slums and villages, classrooms and emergency rooms, fire houses and disaster zones, doing everything they can to bring comfort to the lives of people in need.
The people at the other end of the spectrum find no joy in improving the lives of others. Quite the contrary; they feel as if they are winning only when they see others losing. They’re vindictive, vengeful, petty, spiteful, and pleased to torment anybody they perceive as being less able to fight back.
Most of us exist somewhere between the two extremes. We have the capacity to be kind. We have the capacity to be cruel. Which tendency is exercised in a given situation often depends on the kind of examples we see around us. Are we encouraged to stand up for and help other people? Or are we encouraged to see certain groups of people, especially those different from ourselves, as lesser beings whom we can mock, assault, even murder with impunity?
But the environment is only part of the story. The people in the middle of the spectrum have the innate capacity to move themselves towards one pole or the other. If we are born with a predisposition to be generous, we can choose to squelch that tendency to fit in with a meaner cohort. Conversely, if we are born with a tendency to be cruel, we can learn to suppress those tendencies and work towards being more compassionate, patient and helpful. The environment may urge us in one direction or the other, our very nature may push us as well, but whether we succumb to those pressures is very much a matter of free will.
This is the test: to think before any act of deliberate cruelty, and exercise your free will to make another choice. It is a test most of us fail, repeatedly, over the course of a lifetime, but it is a test that we always have more opportunities to take. Life challenges us to learn and grow from our mistakes. Accept the challenge.