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Being Mean Never Pays Off

February 5, 2012

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.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. February 5, 2012 10:22 pm

    This feels very timely for me. I have a little too much time on my hands of late, and it can be tempting and addicting to frequent comment boards below the news. But what a poisonous environment it can be– generally is. At best, everyone is shooting off their mouth, offering an opinion but usually not one that adds anything. At worst, it quickly escalates into a flame war or you read hateful commentary that can piss you off for hours. It’s a learned skill to stay away from these bad environments….because absolutely nothing good can come of engaging with, or even reading certain things.

  2. February 6, 2012 12:01 am

    There was this fat positive feminist blog that I used to visit (it’s shut down now) and they used to get the WORSE comments. They generally wouldn’t publish the ones that were just straight up insults, but sometimes they would write about it. Like they would get comments, saying shit like a fat women should be happy she got raped, because that was the only way she would ever get laid, and other truly ugly comments similar to that one. It’s really depressing when you read something truly hateful and you realize some people actually think like that. For my own sanity, I try to stay away from that kind of stuff. Otherwise, I would just be angry and sad all the time.

  3. fruittaster permalink
    February 6, 2012 12:07 am

    You have to pay attention to what matters to you. There will always be those who use the anonymity of the Internet to say things they would never say in real life.

    I don’t know you in real life but I can’t imagine you being mean! Maybe people get the same vibe from my writing, but I do get pissed off at some things people do to me. I just don’t believe in throwing gratuitous insults as a way to get back at them. When someone fucks with me, I tend to look for a way to one them up.

    That’s reacting to people being mean to me. In terms of being mean to others, that’s not really in my nature. I still have an old-school value that it’s nice to be nice to people. You never know what you’ll get by being nice, but you usually know what you’ll get by being an asshole. 😉

  4. February 6, 2012 12:24 am

    Too true. I feel the same way, but there are times where I’ve definitely been an asshole on purpose and I’m not exactly proud of it. When I wrote what I did the other week about my ex and I, I didn’t know that his new gf would read it, but I was kind of hoping she would get curious and stumble upon it. I was being a bitch on purpose. Haha, marking my territory so to speak.

    Sure, I was doing it under the guise of “expressing my feelings” and all that, and my emotions were definitely all over the place, but now that’s its all resolved and settled for my part anyhow, I know that part of me was lashing out and trying to hurt someone I don’t even know out of some bizarre kind of resentment. That’s why I went back and password protected the last post I wrote about that whole thing, because I don’t want to interfere in their relationship. I don’t want to be unkind.

    I know too well how easy it is to get obsessed over what someone’s ex is writing on the Internet. It can make you jealous pretty darn fast, and I don’t want to be the kind of person who gets joy out of creating that kind of uncertainty in someone else.

  5. Gillian Colbert permalink
    February 6, 2012 11:58 am

    Wow … talk about hitting home. I am very much trying to deal with what I consider a very abusive aspect of my nature. Thanks for getting the wheels turning.

  6. February 6, 2012 12:10 pm

    Kudo’s to you so many people never come to this conclusion.
    Its not easy being nice. There are so many people that need sorting out. The problem is once you shine a little light on them it reflects back upon you.
    There are rewards for being nice. Self satisfaction ( not pride ), a better class of friends and a clear conscious to name a few.
    Being nice doesn’t include being a push over it just means you have to use logic and manners instead of rudeness and spite. Sometimes all you can do is say “Its too bad we disagree I would love it if we understood each others opinions better”. It seldom works the way you intended but that’s life.

    Cruel

  7. February 6, 2012 5:51 pm

    @Gillian: You’re welcome. We all have to deal with those kinds of impulses once in a while.

    @Cruel: “Its not easy being nice. There are so many people that need sorting out. The problem is once you shine a little light on them it reflects back upon you.” Nicely put.

  8. February 6, 2012 7:28 pm

    You? Mean? I don’t believe it for a second.

  9. February 6, 2012 7:36 pm

    Haha, thanks, but it happens, I swear. Less and less as I grow older, which is awesome, but I’ve definitely been mean in my time. Oh Gawd, just thinking of the hell I put my mother through in high school makes me squirm, a little.

  10. fruittaster permalink
    February 6, 2012 7:57 pm

    I love that you put a comma before that last “a little”. 😀

  11. February 6, 2012 7:59 pm

    I wish wordpress had a “like” a comment button. Haha.

  12. February 8, 2012 11:31 am

    I give you credit for working so hard to improve this world of ours – it could certainly use it!

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