Why is it so easy to be mean? Most of us are good people, or we try to be. We help our friends, donate to charities and recycle our waste. Somehow though, we think it’s ok to be mean to others. Maybe we don’t notice it, maybe we feel justified because our victim ‘deserves’ it or doesn’t even know we’re doing it. Does that mean it’s acceptable?
Our culture embraces meanness. Reality TV sets us up to hate a particular person in every show; media is constantly judging celebrity behaviour and telling us that deviations from the norm must be bad; even the way we talk of other people, criticising weight, clothing, driving or parenting, about our friends and about complete strangers.
Why? Perhaps it reinforces our own sense of superiority, that we are smarter, better, more right than others. Maybe it’s a way to fit in, by ganging up and pointing out things that you and your peer group are united on. Even when our victim is oblivious to the judgement heaped upon them it causes harm. It normalizes a behaviour that is demeaning to others. How big of a step is it from telling the TV someone is a bad cook to posting it on your Facebook page? How far from there to posting it online where there’s a chance, however small, of the target reading it? Is insulting someone publicly online so different from doing it to their face? It’s a slippery slope but we can change the direction if we want to- and we really should want to.
Next time you think or say something hurtful, stop and think. Say something nice about that person instead (or as well if you catch it too late). Maybe she has nice eyes or a cute handbag. Maybe that loud personality you mentally criticised is really a great way to show enthusiasm. Instead of ranting about a person online or making insults in a debate, be considered in your approach and avoid making it personal. Learn to disengage and leave the conversation if it gets nasty.
Reason through your thinking. You might make a snap judgement about a person’s parenting ability, eating habits, lifestyle or personality based on a single interaction but what do you know about them really? Maybe they are caring for a sick parent, or have health issues of their own. Maybe they have experienced tragedy you’ve never imagined. Maybe they just need a smile instead of a frown.
Treat yourself in the same way. So many people online post negative body image comments, put themselves down for small failings and belittle their own place in the world. Change. Be proud of who you are and stand up for what you believe in. Celebrate your strengths and make them your focus. Being nice to yourself makes it easier to be nice to others, and vice versa.
Treat people with grace instead of scorn and challenge others to do the same. Every time you speak or type, ask if what’s coming out is building up, or tearing down. Stand up for a better way of doing things. You’ll find it gets easier and that the more you do it, the better you will feel.