Being Mean to One Another

Posted on 10 March 2019

Everyone is born into circumstances that they cannot control: ethnicity, nationality, class, health, etc. Everyone is raised by a family and within a culture that has particular outlooks. When you are a child at first you just accept the knowledge being given you, because you have no other knowledge with which to compare it and your survival depends upon learning from the people who are caring for you. Do these things make a person automatically bad?

Here in Australia the instant I open my mouth people think they know all they need to know about me because I have a US accent. They assume I am rich and stupid. They assume I am some sort of American corporate out to take things from them or water down their culture. Whenever the US has an unpopular president I wear a peace symbol necklace, because otherwise random strangers have come up to me to raise their voices and tell me how awful the US is. Many people rarely consider the possibility that I am an Australian citizen and have been a citizen and resident for thirty years.

Australia is not unique in this. I don’t know of any country that uniformly treats their immigrants well. Some countries may do better than others, but you are still an outsider.

The Decisions We Make

We have been making some head way in civil and political rights of peoples who had previously been excluded from such things in some countries. However, even within these countries people are dividing themselves up into warring camps, and the divisions can be very fine. Judgement can be so harsh that no one of any political persuasion is above being permanently shot down for being human, even by their own camp.

We can all decide whether we are going to:

  • actively hurt someone,
  • allow someone to be hurt,
  • deem that some people should hurt,
  • work to stop cruel treatment of one another.

How we experience these decisions goes like this:

  • I have been hurt, so I will hurt you.
  • I have been hurt, so why should you get any better?
  • You have been hurt and deserve it, I have not been hurt and deserve that.
  • I have been hurt, no one else should have to hurt.

Kissing Up, Kicking Down

Most societies are obsessed with status. Currently, capitalism is reinforcing this. Therefore, the safest way people function in hurting each other is by “kissing up and kicking down”. We all tend to pander to the rich, famous, and powerful, hoping for their favour, or at least to forestall their mistreatment of us. We also know that we are likely to experience fewer repercussions if we mistreat people of lower status than ourselves.

This is further complicated by people doing all they can to knock those above them off their pedestals. If someone looks like they might ascend to a pedestal, then some people will preemptively knock this person down as well. If someone is lower in status, but has anything that looks like it could belong to someone of higher status, then people will work especially hard to damage them. An example I have seen of this is when a poor family inherits a nice TV and wealthier neighbours insist the family doesn’t deserve any support because of it and so has the poor family’s food stamps taken away.

If we get caught out doing something wrong, we may use these defense mechanisms:

Denial – I didn’t do it.
Minimisation – If I did it, it’s not such a big deal.
Normalisation – Everyone does it.
Projection – Really, you did it and it’s all your fault.
Rationalisation – I couldn’t help myself for very good reasons.
Repression – I don’t remember having done anything wrong.
Mystifcation – How could I have done it, I am the exact opposite of the sort of person who would do that sort of thing.
Regression – You can’t blame me because I am just like a child.
Unrepentant – I in fact did the right thing.

Our Kind

I want to live in a world of peace surrounded by good people. Many of us do. Some of us do this by gathering “our kind” together and creating a closed community of some sort. We then work to keep the “bad people” out and the “good people” in. Small towns and neighbourhoods can do this by simply being hostile to newcomers. In cities some people turn whole suburbs into fortressed domains with security guards. Then we have presidents who set up increasingly militant border patrols.

Groups of people assume they are good for many reasons: they are all wealthy, all part of the same religion, all part of the same ethnicity, all oppressed in the same way, all have the same education, all part of the same country, all part of the same club, etc. Wearing any of these badges tends to be automatic markers of good, without anyone having to actually take any caring and life-affirming actions. It is even a literal get out of jail free card upon occasion when a community goes into denial that one of their own has done anything harmful.

I have seen terrible wrong-doing happen within communities that has gone unchecked. Here is the thinking: 1) we are the good guys, one of our people couldn’t have done anything wrong and 2) if they have done wrong, we do not want any one else knowing about it, because it would damage our community’s reputation and/or our cause. This is when communities become vulnerable to people preying on their own. “Shush,” they tell the little girl who has been assaulted by a community leader, “Don’t tell anyone what happened because this leader is important and we need him.” I have also witnessed manipulators who cry wolf about being harmed by someone from a different community in order to destroy that person, thereby robbing their community of allies and the ability to seek justice the many many times they genuinely are harmed.

Be Braver

All I can say is that we all need to be braver. If we want to live in a liveable world, we must have the courage to be honest, responsible, and more universally compassionate. Any person’s pain should be worthy of our consideration. All people’s well-being should be sought. Vengeance must be recognised as not the same as justice. We must seek to rehabilitate those who have fallen down a bad path.

We have programs to mentor children at risk because they have been born into dysfunctional families, since it has been shown that with the help of an older friend they can live more functional lives. We are not unchangeable machines. Neither is any of us perfect. We make mistakes and the possibility is always there to learn and to grow. We need the strength to offer recompense and seek reconciliation. We then also need the capacity to forgive ourselves and others…not to let people get away with bad behaviour, but to make a way forward possible.

Be kind.

In peace,


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