Proud to be Mean

Last weekend I had the good fortune to enjoy a holiday dinner with one of my longtime friends. We met when we were working together years ago, and have stayed friends going on two decades. We were enjoying a meal together and talking about our daughters and how hard it is to grow up in today’s world. It seems that girls start younger and younger being mean to one another.

My friend shared that she had been standing out on her deck the other night in the condominium complex where she lives. There were two young girls – it was dark, so she thought they might be teenagers around 16 or 17 years old – walking and talking nearby. No one else was around so their voices were carrying clearly through the nighttime air. One girl was telling the other about an incident where she had been beating up on a third girl: “I gave her what she deserved. I put her on the ground and kept punching her face and calling her (expletive).” The story went on and on, with this girl reveling in how mean she had been to this other young woman.

I was aghast by the time she finished the story. She added that she really wanted to speak out and interrupt the flow of the conversation, but she actually felt afraid of these girls knowing where she lived! We talked about the sadness of having a young girl actually being proud to be mean.

Who “deserves” to be thrown on the ground and beaten upon? Who revels in being a mean person who gave someone else “what for”? It’s all too common today that instead of seeing how every one of us has our moments where we “deserve” to have someone to hold us accountable, we believe that we are beyond reproach and the problem is out there with everyone else.

While we all have our different behavioral styles and some of us act out in anger, while others may stew in silence or become depressed, the fact is that we all do things that often – upon reflection – we wish we had not. What if each one of us, every time we did that, had someone throw us on the ground and beat us to a pulp? Don’t we sometimes learn from our darkest moments where we do or say something to someone that we regret for a long time to come? Aren’t we humbled and gifted when someone extends a kindness to us when we feel that we don’t deserve it?

When we lash out at another person, as good as it may feel in that moment, it actually allows them to ignore their own failings and turn around and make us the bad guy! We are the perpetrator in that moment – not the person we are acting out against. We are the one without self-control.

This young woman displayed such a lack of control in her relaying of the story that my friend, a professional and successful woman, felt afraid. I had to wonder if this girl intends that throughout her life. Does she want to turn away anyone who might offer a hand, or a friendship? And how did her friend feel listening to the story? “There but for the grace of God go I” should have been her mantra. When we see someone treat another person with disrespect and disdain, we know it may only be a matter of time before their focus turns to us! Do we ever really trust someone like this?

The next time you want to lash out and either verbally or physically make someone “pay” for their apparent sins, remember that you have probably been in those shoes in one way or another. The biblical reference about taking the stick out of your own eye has its place. None of us are beyond reproach, and as I outline in Secret #5 – “I’m okay but you are most definitely not okay” – we try to pretend we are better than others so that we feel better about ourselves. But, unfortunately, it doesn’t work for us. And in most cases it backfires.

It’s hard work, but try this week to see yourself reflected in someone else when you dislike their behavior and what they are doing to you. See if, instead of increasing the distance between you, you can find a way to close the gap instead. Your response to them could change their life – and yours.