I recently got an email at 3:30 a.m. from a subscriber to my blog. It was the second email I’d gotten from her, and it was filled with such harshness and contempt that it made me literally gasp out loud.
Her email was a stark reminder of a culture of meanness that has cropped up around us. It’s a meanness that is fueled by narcissism, by a wave of cynicism, and an over-appreciation for snark. This meanness is the stuff of playground bullies, bosses who mistreat their employees, and even blog readers who tap out cruel comments in the blue glow of their computer screen, while wearing their 3:30 a.m. brave.
Meanness and narcissism hold hands. Meanness says, “What I feel matters most. I have no empathy for you. If you are in the way, I will run you over.”
I wanted to type back the most awful, non-Christian response to the meanie in my inbox. But then I took a deep breath while standing in that tidal wave of meanness. I took three important steps, and maybe those three steps will help you if you’re having to deal with mean people in your inbox, or in your everyday life.
First of all, allow yourself to feel the pain.
We should not ignore the pain we feel. We need to acknowledge the fact that meanness hurts. But we don’t have to let that pain fuel a negative response.
Second, refuse to seek revenge.
Revenge only perpetuates the cycle of meanness set in motion by your attacker. Sometimes, we simply have to walk away from mean people, which takes a great amount of strength, dignity, and courage.
Third, be kind.
Yes, we really can be kind — which is not to be confused with “we will be doormats.” We shouldn’t allow people to walk all over us, but we don’t have to fight fire with fire either. We can be grace-filled, even in the face of nastiness. However, if bullies aren’t receptive toward good will, there will come a time when you must turn away, and walk toward those who will receive the kindness within you.
Take that kindness within you, and turn it toward the hurting, the broken, the friend down the road who is going through a tough time.
Also (and yes, perhaps more difficult):
Be kind to the people who annoy you . . .
To the telemarketer who calls over the supper hour.
To the kid who broke your favorite lamp.
To the employee who messed up the report.
It doesn’t mean we excuse bad behavior, but it does mean that we can choose kindness as one way to put the brakes on a cycle of meanness.
Someone once said this: “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” That’s great advice, but it’s not easy.
Mean is easy. Mean is a weak person’s disguise of strength and power. The harder, braver choice? Kindness. It’s one of the most underrated virtues of our time. But it’s rooted in Scripture.
The Apostle Paul wrote that we ought to make kindness part of our daily wardrobe.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people . . . clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Colossians 3:12, emphasis added)
What did that look like for me after I got that cruel email? I politely and briefly emailed the subscriber back, but I waited until the next day. I took a few moments to pray for her. Believe me, I wanted to be mean. (If you look closely, you can still see the teeth marks in my tongue.) But more than revenge I wanted this:
I wanted the cycle of meanness to end with me.
I am learning that our attitudes are contagious. Our grumpiness is contagious. Our meanness is contagious. Our happiness is contagious. And our kindness is contagious.
This week, you and I will both face people who will step on our toes. Someone will drop a passive-aggressive comment in your Facebook feed. Your spouse will pick a fight. The TSA agent will get snippy.
But you? You will have a choice what to do next. Choose kindness. It’s contagious.