"We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are."
- Anais Nin
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
I sometimes think I am living on the wrong planet.
My skin is too thin for this one.
Ours is a culture that thrives on meanness in a wide variety of degrees. I’m not a TV-watcher, but I know enough about “reality” television to know that it celebrates strife. There’s lots of yelling, drama, and people treating each other very, very poorly. Then there’s movies - the most popular ones glorify violence. And in “real life?” Bullies taunt and torment. Every so often, those they’ve bullied lash out in violent response.
Yesterday’s Memorial Day holiday gave me an opportunity to consider meanness on a global scale. So much of the history of the world is a seemingly endless succession of conflicts, brutality and losses. We wage wars and tally the number of troops lost, often forgetting that each of those digits represents a life, an individual whose sacrifice sent ripples of hurt and pain among the people they loved.
Too often, we humans do not treat each other well.
Conflict happens. It seems to be an unavoidable part of being human. I do my best to be a kind, compassionate person, and the result is that, most of the time, I find myself surrounded by kind, compassionate people. My daily experience is that most people are good. But the unfortunate truth is this: some people are just mean. And you can’t always escape them.
What do you do when you have to deal with mean people? Or with good people temporarily exhibiting mean behavior?
I realized recently that I have to get better at this. I internalize wounds, particularly those inflicted by people I love. I agonize over how I can make someone contrary understand my perspective or care that they’ve hurt me. But it’s like the saying, “What others think of you is none of your business.” Or, to borrow another old saw, “You can’t please everyone.”
Being sad about conflict does nothing to improve matters. It serves no one - least of all myself - to lose sleep over those times I’ve been horrified by current events, or pained as the subject of gossip, or hurt to be dragged into a battle I do not wish to fight.
So, what’s a girl to do?
I found a wonderful article by a woman with the absolute awesomest job title ever: she is a Happiness Expert at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. Christine Carter, Ph.D posted ‘How to Deal With Mean People' on her blog over a year ago, but some topics are truly timeless.
In her experience, “The most effective response to meanness is compassion.” She explains that it helps to “see mean people for what they really are - wounded and tiny and probably threatened.” She advises to take care of your own pain first, as there's a difference between being nice and being a doormat. Then, she says, “fight fire with water by sending loving thoughts to the people who hurt you.” She acknowledges that this is an “advanced technique,” but I think she’s correct in almost-promising that it will make you feel better. It’s worked for me, anyway. Which is good, because the last thing I want in life is pain and argument.
What I want in life is, to paraphrase Melvin Udall, Jack Nicholson’s character in As Good As It Gets, is “Good times. Noodle salad.” I want to join Dr. Carter in being a Happiness Expert.
I want the mean people to feel my love so fully, they get happy, too…or just quietly disappear from my world.