Do mean people suck?
This is a question thatís been close to me for a long time, and so I feel the need to share my perspective on it.
I donít think that human beings are all that different from the other animals on Earth. We lash out when we feel threatened, we get cranky when weíre hurting and we hide when weíre scared.
I, too, have noticed that, as soon as people were allowed to express opinions on the internet forums that lots of lots of nastiness came out.
It does frighten me, but it also concerns me. I am concerned I because truly believe that people only lash out when they feel threatened.
Why are people so feel threatened by things they see on the internet?
I donít think they are.
People just have an over-abundance of insecurity, and it has to come out somewhere. The internet is the safest place. People have an over-abundance of insecurity because our current cultural set-up is designed to breed insecurity, neuroticism, anxiety and self-loathing, while it simultaneously robs us of our own natural coping mechanisms.
You ever see someone driving with an aggression that suggests that heís simultaneously late for an important business meeting, his apartment is on fire and he just got news that his wife is in labor? Chances are, heís not literally in that situation, but his level of anxiety is probably somewhere around that level. I donít think Iím exaggerating, either. That is the level of stress that a lot of people live with on a daily basis.
Sometimes people are just plain cranky as all hell. My belief is that a high level of crankiness is fed by pain. You know when you try to pet your normally sweet kitty, and your hand comes back looking like a bloody stump? That usually means heís not feeling so well, and itís time to go to the vet.
You know those times when you've had a wrenching pain in your gut? You just want people to shut up and go away.
A lot of people live with emotional pain, every day, because so few people have the tools to alleviate that sort of pain. I know a woman who suffered nearly single every day, for fifteen years, because she could not forget an insensitive comment that her husband made in front of a bunch of her friends, at a long forgotten wedding that they had attended.
Her pain actually outlasted the marriage that came of out of that wedding. Maybe itís obvious, but I should point out here that it wasnít the comment itself, but what the comment represented to her. A lot of people live with that kind of pain on a daily basis.
And, unfortunately, most people just canít cope.
So, I donít believe in bullying the bullies. I donít believe in telling them that theyíre somehow worse, either; mainly because I donít believe that there is such a thing as a person that is rotten to the core.
Also, because I see that it does anything.
I often read comments below articles, blogs and various other postings (since nearly every webpage allows commenting these days), and trust me, Iíve read stuff that would turn your hair white.
Iíve also read the responses of people who believe theyíre fighting back against the haters. Usually, the response makes the first poster feel even more insecure and threatened, so then he says something equally threatening, causing the second person to feel threatened. A few posts down the line, you canít tell the difference between the ďnegativeĒ person and the ďpositiveĒ person. And, I bet you anything that both believe that theyíre arguing for goodness and decency.
Long ago, I was talking to a friend, and we were talking about perspective. He said that he was watching a documentary on Chinese peasants once, and there was a brief clip of a really, really ancient Chinese lady. In this clip, she said, ďI think that if I lived in America, I would smile all day long.Ē
My friend told me about this because it seemed so powerful to him.
I find that notion pretty powerful, too. That is the power of perspective. I know that in the modern western world that hardship is considered to be a bad thing. I donít think so. Hardship offers luxuries that luxury can never offer. It allows someone to feel gratitude.
If that Chinese lady was 82, she probably spent 80 of those years literally scratching a living out of the dirt. Sheís probably lost a few kids along the way, too, and if not, knows people who have.
In a way, sheís lucky, though.
First, sheíll never experience the level of self-doubt that we feel because her choices were so limited. Sheíll never second guess her choices because she only had the one. That, in itself, offers a freedom from regret and insecurity that weíll never know.
Secondly, sheís free from all of our neurosis. When her physical pain goes away, her pain goes away. Itís not part of her worldview to expect anything except hardship. No one told her that pursuing happiness was her right, and therefore, her obligation as a human being.
Sheíll never be profoundly disappointed in life because she was never told that life should be a comfortable and conflict free. Also, she was never told that if she didnít achieve a comfortable and conflict-free life that she had somehow failed at it.
Just the other day, Adam and I were talking about the prospect of seasonal work, and he said to me, ďThereís no seasonal work in the summer is there?Ē I looked at him like he was nuts and then explained to him what agriculture is all about.
I also told him about the various temp work Iíd done in my teens, during harvests. At first, I did the kind of labor thatís usually done by migrant workers, getting $3.00/hour because I was underage, so they didnít have to pay me minimum wage. Obviously, over time, my gigs improved. Iíd work 12 hour shifts, usually the night shift, because it pays better. Iíd often be working with people who had fallen on hard times, either because of a lay-off or a divorce, or they were ambitious kids, like me.
As I described to Adam the various things a person could be doing for summer work, he shook his head and said that he hated that he had been born middle class. Why couldnít he have been forced to have my kind of work ethic? Imagine where heíd be today, if heíd been taught how to work, like Iíd been.
I shook my head at him and said, ďNo, youíre glad you never did that, trust me.Ē
He sees me as an incredibly capable person that got this way because I had to work my way out of the ghetto and put myself through college. What he doesnít see are all the people who didnít make it.
Anyway, Iím off track. Adam is right about one thing. If you can survive it, there is an advantage to hardship. But, of course, not everyone makes it into that second category.
Now, this isnít to say that I donít occasionally think bad things about people who are mean. Even to this day, I canít shake the faint hope that there is a special place in hell for the mean-girls that put me through Heather-like torture in junior high.
I guess thatís human nature, too. It feels like negative people are endangering the whole herd, so we want to stop them, eradicate them, even.
Because weíre a culture that prizes independence and shuns interdependence, we want people to take responsibility for themselves. Just like we want to shame fat people into thinness, we want to blame mean people into niceness. Unfortunately, it just doesnít work that way. I havenít quite figured out how it does work, but I know it doesnít work that way.
Believe it or not, the meanness thatís prevalent in todayís society is exactly why I wanted to go into healing. Itís clear that we live in a society rife with pain and anxiety, and something needs to be done.
|Thursday, May. 24, 2012 at 11:50 AM|