Thursday, September 14, 2006

This User Does Not Understand...

Weekend Assignment #129: Write about something that makes absolutely no sense to you, or that you find almost impossibly ironic. This covers a lot of ground so let me make it simpler: Write about something you just don't get. You've rolled it around in your brain, you've thought about it, and it just doesn't add up. Yeah. Tell us about that thing. From the enduring popularity of talentless celebrities to people who put mayonnaise on their french fries (yes, I'm looking at you, Belgium), there's got to be something out there that makes you go, "huh?" Or, for the kids, something that makes you go "WTF?"

Extra Credit: There's a song playing in your head right now. Tell us what it is.

This user does not understand mean people. Please be nice.

The graphic above is called a userbox. It sits on my user page at Wikipedia, along with 16 other userboxes. Most of the others are about books and tv shows I like and the Wikiprojects (novels, children's lit, television) I work on. Four of them I customized for myself (can you spot them?), but not this one. It's a template, a pre-made expression of an important part of the Wikipedia ethos.

I like it, because it expresses something that is very true of me. I really don't understand why anyone would choose to be mean to other people. Sure, we all say something hurtful in a moment of anger, but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about true malice: hating and persecuting a person or animal for being one of Them, or on their own merits, or for no reason at all; or even being indifferent to a person except for the entertainment value of teasing or torturing him or her. I'm talking about the horrible, earthshaking meanness of beheading Western journalists or debasing Iraqi prisoners, rape in the Sudan and so on. I'm also talking about small, mean things people do, like insulting other students in the hall after lunch, putting ice down some kid's back on the playground, or lying to get a co-worker in trouble at the office.

Some of this is I can understand a little, maybe 10%. If you can convince yourself that someone else is a Them, a subhuman with no rights, then you feel less guilty about taking revenge for some perceived wrong, or putting Them down to advance the cause of Us. That's still horrible and wrong, but it least there's a reason for it - a bad reason, but a reason nonetheless. But some people hurt others just because they think it's funny, or it makes them feel good or powerful. I don't get that at all, not even 1%.

Really, what is the purpose of increasing the unhappiness and suffering in the world? Isn't there too much of that as it is? Aren't the interests of Us better served if we make friends with Them, to our mutual benefit? What message can one person possibly send by being mean to another, that doesn't say more about the abuser than the one abused?

As for myself, I'm sure I miss lots of opportunities to be nice to people, to go the extra mile, to leave an encouraging comment or a note of condolence as needed. I'm not very good at caring about complete strangers, and actually doing something to help them. But I try hard not to hurt people, either. Being human, I do occasional fail in that, but because of anger or miscommunication, not malice.

And by and large, other people seem to be the same way. When a stranger smiles at you in passing, you generally smile back. You hold the door for a stranger with groceries. You express sympathy when someone has cancer - or even just a cold. When it's easy to be nice, people are usually nice. When it's a bit harder, most people are still nice, or at least civil.

But somewhere out there, there are people who add rude edits to Wikipedia, who do much worse things to cats than apply bacon to them, who beat up third graders, who call people names for no other reason than to get a rise out of them, who go out and shoot strangers on the streets of Phoenix. Why? Okay, you can say that some of them have bad brain chemistry or a bad upbringing, but I'm not sure that really explains it. What motivates such a person? What is the evolutionary benefit of malice in the human psyche?

No. I really don't get it.

Extra Credit: Right now? Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious from Mary Poppins, written by the Sherman Brothers.

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Julie said...

Mean people confuse me as well. This world would be a lot more easier to live in without them. Sad thing is, I'm not quite sure some of these people are aware they are mean--were they unloved as children? All we can do is live our lives, and spread as much kindness as possible and confuse the hell out of them! :)

Becky said...

I'm with ya. I had 2 mean commenters on my old blog. They seemed to take great joy in belittling my entries and making me feel lower than pond scum. One seems to have followed me recently to my new blog spot, sadly. Because of my particular mental processes, mean people tend to make me question myself first (was I insensitive? Did I say something offensive without meaning to? What did *I* do wrong? Yadda.) It takes me a minute to realize that it's probably THEM and not me. I just don't get mean people either.

Gaboatman said...

I'm with you totally on this one! I don't get why some people seem to enjoy being mean. Kindness fills the world with warmth and smiles when we let it. It just seems like such a better path to take.

Paul said...

Yeah, well, yo' mama! So there.

Bea said...

I don't understand them either! And I do know this: it starts at a very young age... some kindergarteners come to school already mean!! A few more get mean by the time they are in 3rd grade (dealing with frustrations of learning difficulties). Teachers attempt to unmean them with love, patience, encouragement, and learning strategies. It is unfortunate that a few of them will not be unmeaned. It "takes a village" to unmean a person. Bea

Monponsett said...

I'm actually a fairly mean person, although I've always been positively disposed towards you... so I might be able to help you understand a bit.

Niceness isn't a human's natural condition. Depending on who you believe, humans have been civilized for about 4000 years or so. For the million or so years before that, we were no better than savage beasts.

We've made great progress since those days, but we're still beasts. The differences between us and gorillas aren't that much different than those between a wolf and the neighbors collie.

Religion, law and morality help curb our impulses. Sports and entertainment provide an outlet. They are doing good work for us, but they are serving to try to remove us from our natural state of Beastliness.

Still, we all lose it now and then... some just lose it more often, and some just lose it with more intensity.

As for people who know they're being mean, and what motivates them to continue being's a lot like why dogs lick themselves.

Because they can.