I recently saw a moment in a sitcom when I wanted to cheer. A thoroughly obnoxious character was ragging a surgeon about a failed love affair in the middle of an operation. After the last suture, the surgeon stabbed the guy in the arm, which was about what he deserved—major pain, though not life-threatening. Yes!

I don’t think much of group punishment—courts, prisons, and the rest—but individual punishment makes a little sense to me, as long as we’re willing to take the heat, or the karma, if you prefer. I like it that the surgeon didn’t complain to the hospital administration, and he didn’t call a cop. He stabbed the guy, and I approve of this action.

In the surgeon’s position I wouldn’t have stabbed the asshole, I don’t think. If I had a scalpel right there in my hand, it could easily have been a different story, but I’d like to think I wouldn’t stab him. I’d like to think I’d be mindful of his insecurity and isolation and loneliness and could feel compassion for his plight. That’s what I’d like to think. What I actually think is that I could ignore him, whether or not I could find my compassion, which is always right here somewhere. Also, I might stab him.

Here’s another cheering moment. A long time ago I was lounging around the pool at my apartment when a woman who lived in my building showed up with her son, who lived there, and her younger sister, who didn’t.

This younger sister was in mid-adolescence and couldn’t have been more full of herself. She was visiting her real-life-model sister at her fashionable high-rise apartment and hanging out at the swimming pool that was for residents only.

The sister’s nephew was less impressed with their situation than she, and she ragged him about where he could be in the pool and how to enter it and how important it was not to run especially since there was no lifeguard and he just ate not long ago, and so on like that, whatever she could think of.

That kind of thing is hard for me to watch, so I ignored them, which I’m usually quite good at, but not always. Then the sister strolled around the pool like she had just invented hips and was taking the prototypes out for a test run. As she paused to pose by the steps her little brother was suddenly there, and he pushed her in.

I don’t mean to imply that the little brother appeared from nowhere and pushed her into the pool. No. Being part dog, I didn’t notice his approach because I was carefully examining the test run of his aunt’s new hips and registering my appreciation of her achievement. I seem to be hard-wired.

Still, as soon as I realized that the lad had thrown off his mental chains and pushed his pain-in-the-ass big sister into the pool, I applauded and went over and shook his hand, which seemed to please him no end. That was nearly forty years ago, and I still remember his courage. I wonder if he does.

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