Why We Gotta Be So Mean?

troubled-teens-bully.jpgI truly believe that we humans are mostly good. Still I see far more signs of bullying and ugliness these days than ever before. A friend confided that her son was being mistreated by the girls in his class. He is a very sweet, almost naive soul who can’t quite understand what he may have done to deserve their ire. An acquaintance who is generally a very kind and sensitive person recently took the bait of societal anger and posted an article poking fun at a female political figure. It was quite negative in tone, and unnecessarily so. It’s only purpose was to be cruel and so it stunned me to see this normally good hearted individual becoming part of the negative crowd. It seems as though just living in the world today can quickly devolve into a blood sport.

There is a certain anonymity that comes with the impersonal nature of social media. Being part of a group that initiates callousness feels safe and without consequence. Bandying about words seems a harmless joke given the old saw that sticks and stones can break our bones, but words will never hurt us. Besides, don’t some of our leaders get by with verbal attacks with impunity? What does it really matter to vent our feelings? Shouldn’t people be mature enough to handle our truths?

Thus we find posts on Facebook that create confrontations and tweets on Twitter that seem to revel in their use of cleverly noxious words. There are those among us who have lost their sense of propriety and are even celebrated for their ability to get a rise from some unsuspecting soul. When such attacks occur frequently enough the inflicted pain can become unbearable and then depression and fear follow quite naturally.

We have tried to instruct our children in how to handle the barbs that may come their way. We teach youngsters to curb any tendencies to be bullies and to help those who are victims. Somehow none of our efforts ever completely take hold. No matter how hard we try the ugliness persists and at times even appears to grow, making life quite difficult for those who are the butt of mean spirited behaviors.

There are celebrities like Lady Gaga who pour themselves into the task of helping to reduce bullying. She has created a brigade of young folks who are trained to encourage and celebrate acts of kindness. The hope is that focusing on the positive natures of humans just might mitigate the more negative aspects of the way we treat one another. It’s a glorious idea and bears watching. God knows that we have nothing to lose by actively trying to improve the ways that we interact. Those who demonstrate concern should become our winners, our heroes, not those whose overbearing remarks and actions wound and leave scars.

I read about a school where the students are encouraged to look for anyone who is seemingly alone and welcome that person into a warm and friendly circle. The young people who have adopted this attitude are finding that they are learning as much about themselves as they are about their classmates. They report that everyone feels safer and better understood.

A little boy in a small town heard about a police officer who was killed in the line of duty. The newscasters spoke of how devastated the fellow officers were, so the child decided to donate his Wii to the station. He remarked that playing the games usually made him feel better even when he was sad and he hoped that the bereaved men and women would find solace in the activities that they would be able to share together.

There are good people everywhere who do the most remarkable things without ever expecting credit or even thanks for their efforts. I still recall a young woman who helped me to feel welcome on my first day of teaching in a new school. I can envision her beautiful smile and hear her encouraging words. Somehow she sensed my nervousness and did her best to assuage my fears. Her thoughtfulness made a discernible difference.

I can only imagine how much more wonderful the world would become if we all tried very hard to turn our temptations to be angry or insulting into opportunities to be caring. It takes so little to be nice but it really does turn the tables. Instead of answering anger with anger we might try showing patience and understanding. Love should always trump hate or as someone has said, “When they go low, we go high.”

I suppose that the most difficult situations are those in which we find ourselves facing someone who is blatantly obnoxious. We might simply ignore that person, especially if we sense that attempting to change him/her is impossible. Walking away is not cowardice. Sometimes it’s the bravest thing we might do.

We should also consider answering unpleasantness with warmth. Sometimes it is possible to disarm the negativity by countering it with understanding. I was involved in an incident in which a parent was loudly upbraiding a colleague at one of my schools. When I asked her to calm down she cursed me and told me to mind my own business. I quietly left the scene and came back with cold drinks, snacks and an invitation to come to the comfort of my office. The lady seemed stunned by my calmness and my small gesture of hospitality. Her demeanor became more relaxed as I told her that as a mother I understood her passionate concern for her child. I suggested that together we might be able to devise a plan that would help. Before long we were all partners in an effort to set things right. The ill feeling had disappeared on all sides.

It is doubtful that we will ever eliminate all of the cruelty that exists but we can make focused efforts to do our own parts to approach our daily lives with a sensitivity to the needs of those with whom we interact. We should strive to consciously compliment rather than criticize, smile rather than frown, find common ground rather than dwell on differences. We really don’t have to be so mean. We can change someone’s state of mind simply by remembering to be kind.   

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