A little bit of morning crankiness, I can understand. If someone is still a bit sleepy or doesn’t feel quite right, there will be some obstinancy. But that usually goes away after some breakfast or coffee.
However, chronic meanness seems to be having its heyday these days. Maybe you know a mean coworker or a mean neighbor? A person couldn’t mistake someone having a bad day, for someone with a lifestyle of cruelty and meanness. When meanness is elevated to a national scale, we find mean politicians.
If you frequent discussion groups or read the comments sections following many news and commentary freatures on the web, you’ll soon encounter mean spirited, negative invectives. I’m not just thinking about trolls either. The comments sections are filled with people cutting down other people.
I think the modern epidemic of meanness has its roots in the plethora of radio talk shows. The amount of cruel cynicism, contrarianism, harranging, and just plain making things up has given the listening audience “permission” to do the same. By the same measure, we find that this negativity has naturally drifted over to the web. Political and religious webpages and blogs spill over with cruelty and hatred. It doesn’t matter whether the writers are liberal or conservative, there is a foundation of meanness.
Voltaire said it best. “How inexpressible is the meanness of being a hypocrite! How horrible is it to be a mischievous and malignant hypocrite.”
It seems that when people don’t get their way, their meanness quotient increases. Take the U.S. Congress, these days. Many leaders in that august body didn’t get their way in November, so they appear to be hellbent on destroying any civility and cohesivness of the nation. I’m not sure if they’re motivated by greed, vindictiveness, or raw cruelty. They might think they’re doing the right thing.
It seems like today’s mindset is, the ends justify the means. If hurting people and diminishing civil rights of minorities is done in the name of some arbitrary “good”. The end results will be harmful and counterproductive. Often, people, and institutions wish to attain some ideal state of social behavior and unity. The iron fists of meanness and negativity will only yield evil in the end.
Words and acts of intolerance spread throughout our cliques of friends and then escalate to the national/international theaters. When the victims of our intolerance object and counter attack, we feel justified in further expanding our hostility and meanness. The vicious cycle continues to spiral downward into more hostility and meanness until civil discourse is largely ruled out.
Much of this meanness is due to the neglect of good manners. Etiquette was designed to lubricate human interaction and communication. Etiquette, like the American Constitution, was designed to ensure that all parties, including minorities have a say so in life.
Something John Stenbeck once wrote has haunted me throughout my several years. “It always seemed strange to me that the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, aquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest are the traits of sucess. And while men admire the quality of the first, they love the produce of the second.” Why are we this way?
Why do we dehumanize other people by believing that we know how they should live their lives? This is arrogant thinking. By thinking we know better than they do, we infer our own superiority. Acting as if we are somehow chosen, is an act that will not be interpreted as friendly by others. It is one of the manifestations of meanness.
If we decry the meanness of society these days, shouldn’t we examine our own behavior, first?
The Blue Jay of Happiness knows that compassion and kindness wins over hearts and minds consistently.