Why Are People Mean?

“Mean people are an excuse to stand up for yourself and show compassion,” I agreed with this on my Twitter feed the other day.

It was a day that I was the recipient of a mean remark at work. It’s taken me a while to get over it. I wish I wasn’t so thin-skinned.

If you know me IRL (in real life), you know that I am an extremely nice person. Just the other night when I went to see the movie, Take Shelter —which, seriously, inspired a panic attack in me and I had to leave the movie early — I apologized to the person who sat behind me, because my head blocked her view. So that’s how nice I am. I apologize to strangers because I sit in front of them at the movies.

After the workplace conversation, which also inspired a panic attack, I thought, “Hmmm, wait a minute! You feel I dissed someone? That’s not me. You want me to feel bad about myself? Hmmm. I don’t want to. I’ve got too much to do today. And feeling bad about myself isn’t on the agenda.” I wanted to agree, because I simply love agreement — being such a fan of my “Yes, And!” training from improv and leadership classes.

On my bike ride Saturday, I passed this scene in the Meatpacking District. The sidewalk was covered with rose petals. There were enough for everyone.

If what we’re agreeing on is that I didn’t do a good enough job, I can’t agree. I did an awesome job. I’m sorry you don’t think so — or you overheard someone who said that I didn’t do my job well enough. So it’s really workplace gossip. Wait. This isn’t about me. It’s about you and that was just mean.

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal Health & Wellness section, there’s an article, ‘It’s Mine’ The Selfish Gene: Tots as Young as 3 Can Be Generous While Others Are Inclined To Hog by Kevin Helliker. He writes, “About two-thirds of the children chose to give one or more sets of stickers to an unknown recipient, described to them only as a child who had no stickers.”

Other studies show 70 percent of adults are generous. I believe I am with the majority, looking out for others.

If anything, I fail because I want too much to be liked and approved of. I admit taking criticism is not my strength. I like the gold star and the praise — I like to give it and I like to get it. And I like that I am nice. And I really like nice people. I like my friends smart, funny and nice. And if I could only have one of those attributes in a friend, I’ll choose nice.

So why are some people mean? Maybe it’s just a mean gene; they’re part of the one-third that won’t share their stickers. That’s just how they roll.

As the Twitterverse reminded me, an interaction with a mean person is an opportunity to stand up for yourself, show a little compassion, look within, make any corrections, and ultimately, move on, sharing the stickers. It is not easy.

Here’s the Wall Street Journal article: It’s Mine!

And this helped me too: Don’t treat unkindness with kindness.

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