Seems strangely coincidental but for me meanness is a subject that has come up in conversations this past week. Maybe I was more alert to it. Or maybe a lot of us are getting tired of it — sick of it.
It would be ridiculous to think that people could suddenly become more conscious of the pain they cause others, more determined to alter that — to take responsibility for spreading a little light instead of flailing about angrily in the dark, hitting the innocent as well as the guilty. None of us is perfect, after all. If we could remember that, it might move us all a bit closer to a less mean environment. When there is no need for defensiveness, for getting back at another person, meanness diminishes.
All the more reason, as I wrote about in a blog this week, for learning ways to deal with it when it comes your way — tactics to disarm the angry and allow us to go on with our days lighter, not burdened by the heaviness of viciousness and gratuitous gossip. The blog has gotten some traction, over four hundred shares and nearly 500 ‘likes’ since yesterday. Perhaps there are hundreds of thousands of us ready for meanness to vacate the premises.
Gossip, mean or not, is normal, according to anthropologist Margaret Mead. It happens in all societies. Some of it is simply informative. Other forms help us feel better about ourselves by comparison to the person being maligned. Then there is the intentionally mean kind. Clearly, just because something is prevalent doesn’t make it a good thing. It likely means, however, that eradicating it entirely is too much to ask. Even so, it can be monitored, whether as a group, a village, a society or simply in our own day-to-day conversations.
Often people of a certain age conclude, “I’m too old for that crap.” And there is much to be said for getting to the point where meanness, and even unintended slights, roll off more than they did in our youth. But if you dig a bit deeper, often the pain of past insults, dismissals, and exclusions is still there.
In the blog, there are some ways to respond to meanness when it can’t be avoided. The beauty of learning how to manage meanness is twofold (at least): (1) You can stop the pain because you recognize that meanness often tells you more about the source than the target, and (2) meanness is, like other modes of communication, in the eye of the beholder and thus within your power to reject.
There are a host of phrases that help to keep meanness out of your own mind and heart. “That’s interesting,” “I hadn’t thought of it that way,” “You don’t say,” “My goodness,” “Ah, we’ve all been there,” “Not sure what I’d do with that information,” and “Our turn comes around, though, doesn’t it?” are just a few.
All forms of communication are manageable. They don’t have to happen to us. In fact, they often happen with us — with our permission. We are at least 75% responsible for how people treat us. If you let someone treat you like a rug, he and others will.
This doesn’t mean we should go around looking for insults, as often what seems like one is accidental offense — something said too quickly or at a bad time. It does mean that we’re part of the good and bad in conversation that comes our way. When we don’t abdicate our responsibility to protect ourselves and others from meanness, life is better. None of us is immune. But we’re all able to minimize what makes us miserable by learning what to say when it comes our way and to prevent the professional gossipers from using us as conduits of the venom that eventually robs us of joy.