People are just mean." Have you heard that before? "People are just mean?" Like somehow that excuses or permits or allows for mean people to go on being mean.
I don't buy it. I don't think people are just mean. I think they learn to be mean. I think they say really mean things to themselves. I think they are hurting. But I don't think they are just mean.
But, man, people can really be mean. Have you seen those mean text videos that Jimmy Kimmel has celebrities read on his show? Yikes. They are awful.
At the end of the school year, my eleven year old daughter, started acting funny. My daughter's friends noticed it before I did. She started acting withdrawn and quiet. Her stomach hurt. She wanted to quit ballet. She wanted to quit singing. She was grumpy and irritable. I called her ballet teacher and told him she was ready to quit.
He sat down with her, asked her what was wrong, and she melted into a puddle of tears. Someone had put a note in her cubby at school and wrote, "You suck at dancing and singing." Nice. She didn't know what to do. It threw her off course. She had internalized it and owned it and was ready to believe it.
What it is about our tender psyche's that allow us to remember put downs and insults longer than compliments and affirmations? Why do we give cruelty more power than kindness? Could it be because when people are cruel, we feel threatened and so we go into that reptilian part of the brain and either want to fight or fly? Could it be that cruelty is more toxic in our brains, and therefore harder to clean up?
We all have our personal stories of mean people who spew out cruel comments, that stay with us. I remember one time a parishioner called me and said she had to tell me something for my own good and the proceeded to tell me what an awful preacher I was. She just thought I needed to know that I was the worst preacher she ever heard and that I should do something with my hair. It took me far too long to get her comments out of my head, and to figure out what to do with my hair.
Ignoring them is not the answer, because clearly they have not been ignored. Their voice has found their way into the psyche. Fighting back is not the answer, because it takes way too much energy, and they aren't worth it.
How do we help our children respond to mean people and cruel comments?
The only way I think we can counter cruelty in our world is by responding with sympathy and empathy. Remembering that cruel comment says more about them and their pain than it does about us. Jesus said to pray for our enemies. I wonder what would happen if we taught our children and ourselves to respond to mean notes and cyber bullying etc. by suggesting that they pray for that mean kid. I wonder if we could model a prayer that went something like this:
Dear Loving God,
I'm having a hard time today. My feelings are hurt and I'm offended. Someone made fun of me, criticized me and now I feel self-conscious. I don't like this feeling God and I need your help in getting this yucky feeling out of my mind. Help me to remember that you made me and love me just the way I am.
And God, about that mean person, I know you made them too. I know you love them and I know you understand what thoughts they have going on in their minds. God, would you enter their thoughts and shine light in their darkness? Help them to not feel they have to tear other people down in order to build themselves up. Help me to not feel I have to do the same. Help me to make sure I am a light for those who are in dark places. Help me to move on from this moment and give you more power than anyone or anything else.