An article in the Sunday paper talked about how one child in six is a victim of bullying. After going out with her friends, my daughter got in the car on Halloween in tears because of someone’s meanness. Our state has passed a law that makes bullying a crime, because a young girl killed herself after she was bullied.
When we read this and think about it, do we say “kids are just kids”? Are they just kids or are we having an epidemic of meanness in our society? While watching television with my kids the other day, I noticed how often the characters in the shows are cruel to one another: how often the kids are disrespectful toward their parents, and toward one another, and how often sarcasm is chosen as the method of communication.
It seems to me that in general we are moving toward a “culture of mean” where it is acceptable, and even encouraged, to show hostility toward another human being. All too often it seems that the way to build ourselves up, is to bring another person down. Secret #5, “I’m Okay but You Are Most Definitely Not Okay,” talks about this in my book, “Understanding Other People: The Five Secrets to Human Behavior”. Because many of us don’t feel deep down as though we are okay, we point our fingers at others and highlight their flaws so as to raise our image in our own eyes.
Why would we choose rudeness and meanness over kindness and compassion? Doesn’t it feel better to offer a helping hand, receive a smile because of something we’ve done for another and generally to behave in a gracious manner, than to have someone walk away from us either crying or stewing because of our negative behavior?
My job requires a great deal of travel, and I quite enjoy talking with the limo drivers and taxi drivers who cart me hither and yon. Each one has their own story to tell, and after many trips I’ve heard some pretty amazing stories! The one thing that is consistent, however, is how many of them share with me the horror stories of how they are treated by paying passengers. It’s as if, because they are in a service role, people feel they can take out all of their frustration and anger on the person behind the wheel. In many cases, when I listen to their life stories, these are people who haven’t received much of a break. They are struggling to get by and trying to support themselves and often a family. To hear the stories of how they are spoken to and treated is so discouraging to me.
In every exchange with another person we have a choice of how to respond. It seems that often it is easier to respond in haste with a sarcastic or angry comment. Taking the time for kindness often seems like more than we can handle. But what if we did take a moment to think about a “right” response to another person? What if, instead of pretending we didn’t see the person trying to exit their driveway into our lane of traffic, we simply let that person out in front of us? What if we approached the clerk at the grocery store or the taxi driver with a big smile on our face and an interest in their well-being? What if we complimented our family members more in a single day than we criticized them? What if when someone baited us with their difficult behavior, we chose to walk away instead of fighting back?
For most of us, we’d find a calmer, more peaceful approach to life if we made these different choices. The truth is that it’s not easy. Mean comes on more quickly and is often more satisfying – at least in the moment. But when the moment wears off and you are standing there, what kind of person do you want to be?
This week, choose kindness.