Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Mean-spiritedness

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….

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Amen!

Anonymous said...

My dad use to have 2 things he'd say to us as children, one was: If you cant say anything nice, dont say anything at all. And the other was: Its better to keep your mouth shut, and let people THINK your stupid, ( mean spirited, an asshole,or what ever)than to open your mouth and TELL them that you are. Words to live by, and words one particular person that comes to my mind, would do well to take heed to. Nice post Julie.
Darci

carson-crazies said...

Nice post J. True, very true. A lot of folks, I think, say things (or write things) in the spirit of "telling it like it is" but that's just an excuse to be unnecessarily ugly, and it's a shame.

Julie said...

Yep, Laura, I think it's awful easy for someone to hide behind "straight talk" as an excuse to just spew venom. What I don't understand is how such people can believe that others don't see that behavior for exactly what it is. The venom-spewers end up simply becoming laughingstock. I read Becca's blog the other day and I think the sentiment she expressed is worth repeating: folks speaking or posting messages should strive to be uplifting to their intended audience. Failing that, they should do no harm.

Robin French said...

I saw a sign that describes it very well --

"Great people talk about ideas. Average people talk about things.
Small people talk about other people."

Rachel said...

Oh, Robin...I like that. This topic hits very close to home for me and Brian as we have had a wife in Brian's group of friends spew venom about both of us...most of which isn't true, or I'd like to think it isn't true. One such statement she has made is that we are "bad people". Not quite sure how she can justify that as when I stayed at their house for an extended period I let them get out and babysat their children...not to mention would watch them in the mornings when they wouldn't get out of bed. Just makes me mad when people become ill-spirited to suit their own needs...and the followers believe them.

Rachel

Rachel said...

Ok...was that me being ill-spirited about them...sorry (see...at least I'm not proud of it).

Rachel

Julie said...

Rachel,
I think it's okay to express dismay at being treated badly by people you thought were your friends. Where it becomes mean-spirited is if you were to post a bunch of crap about them online or elsewhere. That is, if you stoop to their level.

Debbie Pelletier said...

okay, what's wrong with me? I want to know the details....all the dirty details.
sorry. :)
Seriously though, I have also noticed a lot of nastiness and snippiness (is that a word) directed at people - and it's especially prevelant online. People can hide behind their keyboard I guess.