Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mean People

I don’t know many mean people any more.

But I still know a few.

(If you’re reading this, you’re not one of them.)

At this stage of the game, I choose to fill my life with as many positive, uplifting, encouraging people as I can. 

A horrific life-event (such as my daughter Katherine’s debilitating AVM rupture) tends to reveal who your true friends really are. To my surprise, I found that I had more than I realized.

More than I deserve.

And those friends happen to be very sweet.

So, when I run across a Mean Person now, it almost shocks me. I’ve been spoiled by the great Healers, Love and Laughter... which is how I characterize my friends.

When you’re younger, you have more opportunities to be around Mean People. They might go to your high school. They might work at your office. Their kids might be in your kid’s class…play on the same sports team.

Maybe they’re in your church.

Or your family.

Being around Mean People may be unavoidable for you. If so, I’m sorry. Mean People are a downer. They can infect any atmosphere with their lack of love.

General Traits of Mean People:

Gossip about other people’s faults in order to feel better about themselves.

Mock and make fun of people for the same reason.

Need to be in charge and in control.

Manipulate, manipulate, manipulate in order to do so.

Sabotage the efforts of others.

Rejoice at other people’s failure, denigration, or fall from grace.

Hold everyone around them hostage by fear and intimidation.

In short, Mean People are just Big Old Bullies.

When my sensitive firstborn was close to 2, a friend of mine with kids her age purchased one of the first VCR players in town. (Yes, we are that old.) She invited our toddler play group over for a movie screening.

The movie was Disney’s Dumbo*, one of my childhood favorites.

We young mothers were chatting in the back. The other toddlers were pointing at the TV and saying stuff like, “Googoo, gaga, wook at the elf-ant,” and laughing.

Katherine’s eyes sought mine through the crowd.

They were huge and dark. Tears started spurting out of them when she caught my eye, dribbling down her prissy smocked dress. Racking sobs shook her little body.

I flew to her and scooped her up in my arms.

“What happened? Did you get hurt?” I demanded, panicking.

Between sobs, she stopped to catch her breath, and held it to the point of crescendo.

“Why is there meanness in the world???” she exhaled on an endless wail.

She’d been watching the way the other elephant ladies treated Dumbo’s mother.

I feel like I’ve been trying to answer that question ever since.

The World can be plenty darn mean.

Watching the evening news sometimes, I ask God:

“Why is there so much meanness in the world?”

What makes human beings mean?

I think some keys are found in an interesting dialogue between the narrator and his mentor in Lewis’ The Great Divorce.

The mentor discusses “…The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven.”

“I don’t know what I want, Sir.”

“Son, son, it must be one way or the other. Either the day must come when joy prevails and all the makers of misery are no longer able to infect it; or else for ever and ever the makers of misery can destroy in others the happiness they reject for themselves.”

Mean people are self-imprisoned.

Mean people are loveless.

Mean people are unhappy.

Mean people are hurting, wounded people.

I have found the axiom “Hurt people hurt people” to be very true in my own life.

It helps me to remember this. When confronted with vicious behavior, I may vent about it for a while. But eventually, I have to confess my own reaction or I “become that which I hate.”

I pray for compassion. “Help me to see this person as a hurt little child, acting out from his/her woundedness.” 

God only knows what scars may be on that soul.

And then I pray for the person. (Sometimes very grudgingly.) It’s hard to stay angry at someone when I’m praying for them. It just evaporates in the face of the grace I’ve received myself. How can I refuse anyone else what I have been so graciously given?

Okay, I can’t go any further with this without some serious self-examination.

When have I been a Mean Girl?

A few scenes from High School flash by. Ugh. What a little gossip.

There was a time in the ladies’ room at the KA house in about 1973 or '4 for which I really need to ask forgiveness. If you’re reading this, whoever you are, please forgive me. That night remains kind of hazy.

What about those prayer groups in my thirties where I went into far too much detail about what was wrong with someone in order to pray for them?

What about last weekend when…

Lord, forgive me for my manifold sins and hold them not against me.

In examining my own past motivations in acting mean, I am reminded of another important source of meanness:


Mean people are often jealous of something you have that they don’t. Could be a boyfriend, a house, an award, a lifestyle...

But most of all, they are jealous of your joy.

If they can’t have it, they don’t want anyone else to have it, either. They attempt to "blackmail the universe," as Mr. Lewis says. Hold everyone else hostage to their misery.

My sensitive eldest child had some kind of typical Mean Girl episode in Middle School. In tears, she fled to the office of the Middle School principal, a wise, wonderful, loving woman who had raised 3 girls herself. She let Katherine pour out her hurt, then shared some advice that Katherine has never forgotten. She taught her this:

No one can rob you of your joy unless you let them.”

Katherine has lived by that advice ever since.

She has steadfastly refused to let anyone or anything rob her of her love and joy.

And that is how we win out over all the Meanness in the universe.

“The day must come when joy prevails…”


If you are dealing with a Mean Person in your life, I hope this helps a little. I think we all do, at one time or another. And most of us are, at one time or another.

(* I have a feeling that I may have shared this Dumbo story somewhere along the way. If so, please forgive yet another Senior Moment.)


Laurel said...

Dumbo did me in, too. Except I think I was five.

Meanness still surprises me, especially the kind without purpose. I might not approve, but I can understand the motivation for sabotaging someone competing for your job, your boyfriend, whatever. I just don't get being mean as a hobby.

I can be as mean as anybody, but I feel terrible if it finds a victim. The one or two times my thoughtless words found their way to their target were enough to make me watch what I say.

But you're right, the older I get the clearer it is that people who are mean-spirited are pretty unhappy. Joy isn't finite. If someone else has it and you don't, it isn't because they stole your share. You have to find your own.

Anonymous said...

Wow....that was just for me today! I am dealing with a "mean" co=worker. My southern born and bred background keeps me from being mean back, but I have often wondered if I should just let her have it......your post today gives me a little insight to why she is the way she is!!!

Wanda J

Anonymous said...

I really needed this message today. My son is dealing with a mean boss. Oh, how it angers and hurts so much more when it is your child rather than you. As Laurel wrote mean as a hobby is incomprehensible. Thanks for reminding me to pray for the boss and remind my son no one can rob his joy unless he allows it.

Erin M. said...

Wish I had those words of wisdom while battling my mean girls in junior high.

Thanks for the encouragement, once again. I love your blog!

The Retarded Mother said...

The thing I always want to say to you each time you post is simply this, "I love you." Thank you for being who you are. I could write pages for you about how your words move me. I'll save that.
Never stop growing or writing...or loving. It inspires me and all of us.
And, is there a sweeter lullaby than the one in "Dumbo"? (Taylor's favorit movie BTW.)

Allison said...

love. love. love.

thank you:) i have been praying for a couple of months for a wise woman to mentor me. i treasure my friends that are my age, but i have been longing to have someone shepherd me through these years with young kids. it is so hard. but seeing the way you parent and love your children, inspires me.

i thank the Lord for you and your words.

i also thank the Lord that he has taught me so much through anger i have felt for such a long time. he is changing my heart and giving me compassion for others. (i spent a large portion of my life being a mean person:(.)

Anonymous said...

Kim, you certainly have a gift with words. I don't think anyone could have explained mean people/words/actions and their motivations more succinctly AND KINDLY! You are, "spot on." You inspire this grandmother constantly. Keep writing. It is your ministry and your girls are blessed by your wisdom and through them you will bless future generations.


Sarah Hunt said...

This is EXACTLY what I needed to hear today! Thank you so much for your beautiful words of wisdom and insight. I am dealing with a difficult boss who enjoys emotional manipulation through bullying. It has been very hard to deal with, but this helps me so much!! I needed this reminder to pray for him and try to understand the root of his actions. Thank you so much for your inspiration and motivation!

Kim said...

I echo the sentiments of the previous comments - your words were exactly what is needed to hear today.

I often labor under the heaviness of mean comments said to me or those which slip out of my mouth about others. (Of course I am too refined to actually say them to someone's face most of the time...)

I am usually silenced as well as encouraged by your wise words. God uses them in my life. Thank you so much..

Karen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Karen said...

Kim, SO glad to reconnect with your blog after "loosing it" during the drama/trauma of challenging 2010! You continue to amaze and inspire...and make me more aware of how NOT to be a "mean person". I certainly recognize them in my life, past and present, although there are few :)
Love you!