I’ve been thinking about this behavior in people lately. What is it that makes people mean-spirited? Why do some people take pleasure in others’ pain or misfortune? I imagine that taking private pleasure in another’s misfortunes or mistakes is somewhat hard-wired in us—one of those things we all do at times, but which most of us have the grace to at least not be proud of. But what makes a person comment on such situations in a manner that’s derisive of the person or situation upon which the comments are being made? And why does the person making the comments generally tend to do so in a venue where the person or people being derided don’t have a voice (that is, in a venue where the people being attacked can’t defend themselves)? What purpose does this kind of behavior serve? I assume it makes the one partaking of it feel better about him- or herself, but don’t these people also see how such behavior just reflects back on themselves? Don’t they understand that by taking that “holier than thou” stance—especially when the situation is something with which they have no direct experience and thus have no real knowledge on which to base their judgments—they’re also making themselves look ridiculous (and mean-spirited, which they are)?
Consider the somewhat typical behavior exhibited on a dog-related e-mail list I receive. The people there routinely state things like “My dog could certainly do that,” even though nothing they’ve ever conveyed to the rest of us of their actual real-life experience could come close to making their statements believable. Often these sorts of people will say something along the lines of “I don’t see why John Q. did that or couldn’t do that. My dog could do that.” Of course people making the claim that their dog “could do that” will never actually come close to “doing that” with their dog, so it’s difficult to see what truth they’re basing their statements on. Certainly you rarely hear such comments from the folks who have been there and done that. Nope. You hear those types of comments only from the people who have never been there and done that and probably have no hope of ever being there and doing that. At least on the e-mail list someone is likely to point out the hogwash for what it is. And the author of the comments can then defend them or not. But what if those same comments were made in a venue where no one could call the author on them? What purpose, then, do those types of comments serve? Is it some sort of self-stroking of the ego? Is it to make the author feel better about his or her own failures (or perhaps lack of initiative)? I think it’s really just a poorly-veiled attempt to elevate oneself by tearing down others. It’s a coward’s tactic. And it’s really sad….