Being Mean Never Pays Off
I sent an email to a friend the other day with the subject line: I’m an idiot and a mean one too. I really did feel like both at the time, and I went on to explain why in the body of the email. I’ll spare you that particular tale of woe, but I’d like to talk about the subject in general.
I don’t consider myself a mean person, although I certainly have been on occasion or at least have felt the impulse. More on that later. For now, let me just say that it’s a quality I tend to dislike in others. Actually, I think the biggest insult you can say to a person is that they’re mean, and let me tell you something you already know, people are mean. Well, some of them. A lot of the time. Comment threads on message boards and blogs are filled with mean-spirited barbs.
There’s a whole lot of shaming going around these parts (err, I mean, the Internet). One of the most common being, tearing down a women because of her looks, etc. Some people can be really nasty, I tell you. I’ve been pretty lucky on this blog, receiving for the most part, nice comments or at least comments that add to the discussion rather than trying to tear someone down on a personal level, but others haven’t been so lucky. There’s something about the anonymous nature of commenting on the Internet that gives people the impression they can be real assholes without consequence.
I wonder where that impulse comes from? If I think about my personal circumstances, I don’t have to look too far, because every time I’ve been mean or wanted to be mean it was usually spurred on by some kind of anger. I was mean, because I wanted to hurt that other person, because I was in pain. Sometimes that pain was justified and sometimes it wasn’t.
It’s a pattern I recognize easily, my father has a lot of anger, has a lot of pain (physical and emotional) and when he feels especially shitty he tends to take it out on those around him. I learned early on not to engage in those situations. Instead of getting angry right back at him, I usually just withdrew and waited for the storm to pass. I learned to avoid those currents as best as I could. To just stay out of the fucking way, which isn’t to say that it didn’t hurt, because it did. I just choose to retreat, because although it feel that way, I knew enough to know it wasn’t about me.
I’ve had that impulse to be really mean to someone, to lash out and take out all my feelings on another person, but it never feels good in the end. You just end up feeling like an ass and I don’t like feeling like an ass.
After my parents split up when I was 5 or 6, we moved to another city just before I started grade one and I remember being in the school yard watching a bunch of kids make fun of another kid for being fat. To my dismay, I joined in… I don’t know why… to try to fit in and make friends maybe, but my first attempt at “bullying” was cut short when those same kids turned on me and started making fun of my attempt at being mean. It was a strange turn of events, but I learned pretty quickly what it felt like to be “other” and just like that I lost all desire to be one of them. You could say, that my love for the underdog was born on that playground and that my desire to be mean to others was put out as quickly as it had been sparked.
I’m not perfect though, there were moments even after that first lesson where I had to learn it all over again, the hard way. Mainly, that there’s no pay-off to being mean. It doesn’t help, it doesn’t change the way you feel, except maybe make it worse. There’s no sense to it. Yet, the impulse is still there sometimes. That momentary desire to tear someone down to make yourself feel better. Even if they’re sort of asking for it by their behavior, even if they were mean to you first; being mean right back doesn’t solve anything.
It’s no good being a doormat either. When your feelings of anger are justified, you have to stand up for yourself and others, but when they’re not justified, I’d wager it would be worth taking a look inside yourself and trying to pin-point why you suddenly want to hurt someone else for no good reason. Now, that’s something that pays off in the end.