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Why Are People Mean?

Posted in A Class Act by Linden Barrick on January 14, 2013
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

too mean

Today in my homeroom, these are a few of the comments I heard:

“You’re going to lose the basketball game tonight. No way you’ll beat that team.”

“Why in the world are you wearing green pants?”

“Can you believe he wants to be her boyfriend?”

After a few minutes of such uplifting conversation, I can’t stand it anymore and have to tell the students to be silent. Whew, what a relief when it’s quiet.

Why are these kids so mean to each other?

But meanness, cruelty, and cutting remarks are a sickness that infects adults as much as teens, so my question has to expand to encompass a larger population.

Why are people, kids and adults both, so mean to each other?

After almost a decade of observing teens, I’m fairly certain the following list encompasses why most of them are mean, and I would hazard a guess that many grown-ups who continue to be cruel in adulthood fall into the same categories.

1) Learned behavior: Life at home isn’t easy for many of my students. I’m sure the conversation could rarely be described as uplifting or inspiring. When they hear cruel words used on a daily basis, it is hard to rise above it when they are in a different setting. It’s engrained into their vocabulary, their minds, and even their hearts.

2) Chain reaction: Have you ever been around negative, mean people and then found yourself feeling negative and mean as a result? Whether it’s at school, home, a business, or even church, if you are surrounded by unkind people, soon you too will be unkind. I know I have fallen into this trap before. I let my students, co-workers, or family members bring me down to their level. I end up acting exactly as they act.

3) Feeling superior: We’ve all seen it. Someone insults another to make themselves feel better about themselves or to try to impress others. This may start on the playground in elementary school, but it continues through the locker rooms and classrooms in middle and high school all the way to the corridors in office buildings and meeting rooms at church. Comments like these usually tell much more about the speaker than the person they are speaking of, and the audience usually isn’t impressed. What I’ve learned and observed is that words spoken to inflate oneself often end in feelings of regret.

4) Lack of understanding: Admitting we don’t know something is difficult, and some people resort to ugly reactions rather than confessing ignorance. They feel if they divert attention away from themselves, others won’t recognize their lack of understanding. But similar to #3 above, the cruel comments rarely produce the desired results.

5) Just plain evil: As sad as it is, some people simply enjoy being mean. I have students who delight in their own nastiness and exert more effort hurting others than in any other aspect of life. Seeing another human being upset or even crying makes their day complete. I’m not sure about the whole nature vs. nurture debate, but extreme evil definitely exists in some people.

It’s a challenge to be around cruel people. My instinct is to distance myself but it’s impossible in some situations such as my classroom. I have to teach these kids even if they are mean. God loves them and so should I, but as hard as I try to model kindness, many times my patience thins to the breaking point and I find myself being reactive instead of setting a good example.

Please pray for my patience, and if you encounter any mean people today, smile and say a prayer for them as well. Happy Monday!

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2 Responses to 'Why Are People Mean?'

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  1. optimisticgladness said,

    I’ve noticed that if a person is jealous of another, meanness will rear its ugly head too. You have a succinct list here. Nice post.


    • Thanks, and you’re right. Jealousy is definitely another reason. Will have to add it to my mental list from now on. Thanks for stopping by and reading!


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