A few months ago I was feeling like I was taking it from all sides and I felt very vulnerable. There were days that a sideways look was enough for me to want to dissolve into a mess of sloppy tears. It only lasted for a couple of weeks, but it got me thinking about how I treat other people and how we don’t always realize that an off handed remark or a kind hearted jibe might be all it takes for someone to reach their tipping point.
In high school I was known as the sarcastic one. The one who always had the quick retort and shut down a bully quickly and efficiently. I didn’t realize how “good” I was at this until I got to university and people who I barely knew from high school would come up to me and say hi and that most of all they remembered my sarcasm. Even now when catching up with old friends on Facebook they often mention my sarcasm, not my humour, but my sarcasm, as the thing they remember most about me. Of course for me the sarcasm and biting humour was a defence mechanism, a way to defuse someone before they could attack me with comments about my weight, but regardless of the reason for it, the end result was that I was mean to people. I was mean to people who might have been acting out because of their own struggles and I was mean to people who were likely innocent bystanders hanging around the “cool” kids as a way to survive the social minefield of high school.
And so a couple of months ago I decided to be kinder, specifically I decided that I would put a pause button on my mouth. Before saying the funny and generally well intentioned sarcastic remark that springs to mind I’m going to take a beat and consider the outcome of those words. If it’s someone with whom I have an easy banter and an understanding with then perhaps it’s fine, but I don’t always know the kind of day someone has had and maybe my off handed comment is the last straw for them or maybe they are the kind of person who feels very deeply and my comment, said for my own amusement and forgotten seconds later, might stick with that person for a long time to come.
Granted it’s just a little wit, it’s not like I physically hurt these people or orchestrated a smear campaign, and we know from our legal system that different crimes have different punishments so there is a sense of one crime being worse than another, but whether I point out someone’s shortcomings or I kick them in the shin I am being mean.
A few years ago a friend hurt my feelings. When I finally spoke to her about it her defence was that the same action had hurt someone else’s feelings more deeply and somehow I was supposed to be thankful for that. Recently another friend who is struggling with some personal issues sent me an article and wanted confirmation that he had never been as mean to me as the man in the article was to the author. While my instinct is to protect him because he is emotionally vulnerable I have to admit that I was disappointed and hurt. He wanted me to assure him that even though he’d been unkind that it was not so bad because he had been less unkind than someone else.
What both of them failed to comprehend is that there is no equivalent of the Richter scale on these things. You can’t say well I only got a 0.2 on the Meanter scale, but that dude, that dude lemme tell ya he was a 0.8 with aftershocks, that dude is MEAN. There is no spectrum of mean, rather I think of it like a toggle switch, on or off, mean or kind.
I’m not saying that we can’t express our feelings or that we can’t make a joke, I’m just saying that we need to own our behaviours and if we are mean we apologize and we make amends and we don’t try to deflect blame and responsibility by pointing to those who are “meaner”.
– the Goddess