Really? You’re not this mean, are you?

By Caitlin Kelly

Internet_cafe Tokyo japan
Internet_cafe Tokyo japan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This post, from the Huffington Post, caught my attention, and not in a good way:

The Internet has done amazing, wonderful, stupendous things for
connecting the world, promoting freedom and diversity, enabling distance
learning and online friendships, and establishing whole new worlds of
commerce, but there is a dark side to it that is really starting to
bother me. All of this interconnectedness has created a meanness in us,
or maybe it has simply revealed a mean spirit that was there all along,
but I wish it would go away. Even kind, loving people I know are
susceptible to it, and my hope is that this post will get folks to
reconsider before hitting return.

I’m talking about the Mean Photo. You know, the snapshot of someone
grocery shopping, or going to the prom, or on the subway who probably
thinks she looks perfectly okay, but some stranger (or worse, a friend)
takes a picture and posts it on the Internet for the rest of us to share
and “like” and write snide, superior comments.

If I see one more picture with the caption, “Oh. Dear. God!” I may just lose it.

That is a human being in that picture. A person who got up that day,
got dressed and left the house without ever thinking it would make her
the subject of public ridicule, simply because her shorts are too tight.
Maybe she’s gained a lot of weight recently due to a medical condition
and can’t afford new clothes, or doesn’t want to buy things in a size
she intends to reduce. Maybe it’s a single mom who had to choose
between doing the laundry and going to her son’s baseball game, so here
she is, cheering him on, making the better choice, even though this
outfit is all she had to put on.

I’ve never seen a site like this that mocks people, nor do any of my 600+ Facebook friends indulge in this special brand of nastiness, (at least on that site), so this was news to me.

But — seriously?

As someone who was bullied for three years in high school, I have zero tolerance for this sort of shit.

Bullying, in any form, makes me insane. It’s cheap, crude, pathetic behavior on the part of people who have some sick need to project their toxic insecurities and judgement onto others.

Here’s a wild idea. It’s easy to remember because it’s the first three letters of the alphabet: ABC.

Always Be Compassionate.

I get it…we all have lousy days. We all have times that our lizard brain kicks in and starts spewing. We’re not saints and some of us have no desire to be one, either.

But, a default position that others are struggling (too) is probably a safe choice, because:

You have no idea what someone else is facing, emotionally, financially, intellectually, physically.

You have no idea why someone’s hair needs a cut or their shoes are scuffed and filthy or their kids aren’t wearing designer clothes like yours do.

You have no idea why they’re driving a crappy, banged-up old car or don’t have a car at all.

You have no idea why someone is 30 or 50 or 100 pounds overweight.

Like the man in my building who was trim and handsome for years — and now has such big jowls I didn’t recognize him when I saw him the other day.

He isn’t eating donuts or being a lazy slob stuck to the sofa.

He has a brain tumor, and a brave wife and a gorgeous little white dog, and his medications have blown him up into someone who looks like he can’t stop eating.

His appearance breaks my heart — and all I think is “There but for the grace of God…”

I can’t fathom a world in which people are using their phones and the Internet to mock others for malicious amusement.

Can you?

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42 thoughts on “Really? You’re not this mean, are you?

  1. Behaving as if you are superior just because there is someone there to make fun of does not, in fact, make you superior. It just makes you mean. And it also indicates your total lack of manners. I was raised by wolves, and I can do better than that. Seriously.

    I don’t want a world where people behave like that. I can imagine it, but I’d just really rather not.

  2. You’re right. The important reality of being human is that we have a duty of care to each other. It’s important. But this gets forgotten, all too often, amidst a sea of status anxiety and other human failings. I often wonder whether it happens because people attach self-worth to a possession, real or abstract – such as, in New Zealand’s historical territories, ‘dimension of one’s personal publications list’ – and behave badly when someone else seems to have what they use to validate themselves..

    The internet, inevitably, is a snapshot of the condition…and the onus is on us to focus on the positive and bring across the right messages – kindness, tolerance and care. It’s not rocket science. But it also means letting go of the things that bring out the dark side – which, to a significant extent, is harder, and I guess some people post stuff without considering…or caring…or (worse) after considering.. And until humanity as a species generally learns how to have that duty of proper care, I guess we’ll always see that dark side in places we’d prefer not to. As you put it – wolves. Sigh.

    (Actually – is this being unfair to wolves? They aren’t motivated by calculated malice…unlike some sorts of people…)

  3. Funny this was published on Huff. They always have a page that says something like “20 of the most embarrassing family portraits.” At Christmas they have “the top 10 creepiest Santa photos.”

  4. People like to afford dignity to themselves but lose what they have when they try to remove it from others. I’m not sure whether some think by pointing these things out we automatically grant them a higher status because they’re not like that, no fat ass etc.
    Really it does harp back to bullying even if not the traditional form. It’s nasty, it’s snide and we should stop and think what might happen if the person heard us. I for one would not like someone’s suicide on my conscience.
    xxx Massive Hugs for the weekend xxx

  5. I’ve never heard, received, or given any behavioral advice that didn’t boil down to, “Give other people the benefit of the doubt.” We have NO idea what goes on inside another person’s body or soul, but we’re often so quick to assume it’s something worthy of our high and mighty judgement.

    The internet, in my opinion, does a lot of good but it also creates a mob mentality that’s dangerous. Where in the old days you had to muster some effort and energy to grab your torches and pitchforks and storm someone’s home, we can now stay on the couch and participate in the nastiness and feel part of the cool or superior club without lifting a finger to do more than type. The results can be just as awful to the victim, but with much less work on the part of the perpetrator.

    1. In the good old days of bullying, one could (and did) punch your bully in the face, or worse, when necessary — or round up a posse to help you fight back. Now? Insanity rules — witness the online attacks on the women who argued for Jane Austen on British money.

      I was cyber-threatened when I wrote at Open Salon, and one man said he’d “beat me bloody”; I went to my local police and had to get past their scorn and dismissiveness to have the guy (in Florida) investigated. I also got him thrown out of OS. Internet harassment is a crime in some places. People need to know it and fight back when it becomes that toxic.

  6. Steve

    Sounds to me like like your parents did a pretty good job of raising a daughter with empathy and compassion for others, especially the unfortunate. That’s a good character trait and one that is taught and was probably caught. I see this as a big problem in our society, at least in the circles I run in. Parents don’t want to ‘parent’ their children, they would much rather be their child’s friend. My mother taught me that if I didn’t have something nice to say to someone, don’t say anything at all. I am now 57 and I can still hear those words. I’ve had many jobs in my life and being a parent and raising children to be far and away the hardest job I’ve ever had.

  7. I’m always astonished on news sites that are linked to Facebook, about the comments that people will post next their pictures and full names. It’s as if they think the internet is some nether region that no one they know visits. The vile comments and nastiness depresses me and I have to seek out more positive sources to give me a more balanced view of humankind.

    1. I think there is something really interesting/creepy/depressing about this….I agree with you that there is some bizarre delusion or denial that what we write here is both public and permanent. I’m sure many Phd theses are being written on that topic.

  8. These examples remind me of earlier days on the Internet with instances of mean and rude behavior on message boards. It was amazing what people would post when they were anonymous. The comments were often vicious and based on assumptions and misconceptions. I had to resist the temptation to lash out after being attacked for some harmless comment I had made. Often, I would just stay away for several days until the uproar had died down.

    1. Those days still exist…It’s quite instructive (and worrying); there have been appalling recent instances of women (especially) being harassed and abused and threatened with rape (!) for speaking our minds.

      My experience at Open Salon — where I was so roundly attacked for a few posts that it left me both open-mouthed and quite frightened — left me deeply wary of any site where I do not have control, as we do at WordPress. There were two comment threads that became frothy-mouthed and almost psychotic in their mob mentality of their bile and hatred — spewed by people who had never met, and would never meet, me. People who had no idea who I really am and clearly didn’t care.

      I finally stayed away for good.

      Truly sick and disturbing.

      1. That’s the thing. I find it difficult to just leave and stay away for good–there is that feeling that I’ve allowed myself to get pushed out, and, being human, I want to fight back, even though I can see how futile that would be in the bottomless pit of mean-spirited anonymity that is the Internet. This post struck a nerve. But I was going to say, I always think the same thing when I read articles about Internet bullying, which is it’s no different than bullying anywhere else, (not precisely true) and the general rule still stands, that in any kind of confrontation, the party with the lowest standards is always going to win out, in the short term, at least, and the solution is still to shrug it off and not let outside negative forces change your life any more than absolutely necessary.

      2. Good advice.

        I think the fact that nasty comments — left unanswered or unaddressed while also remaining public and permanent — is problematic. If you ignore them, some may assume the comments are accurate (when they are not) or you’re a pushover for not replying.

        But you know the expression — never wrestle with a pig. The pig loves it and you just end up exhausted and covered in mud.

  9. I have seen some mean stuff on FB – someone will post a nice photo of Obama doing something and out come the racist, hateful comments. Then someone else gets on and rebuts them and the nasty, hateful one calls them a name and tells them to get off FB. Just unbelievable. But I bet some of these cretins would not say the same things to your face. It happens on the other side, too, such as potshots at Fox news personalities or particular Republicans. Then it starts again. I get so discouraged.

  10. Unfortunately, it’s part of my job to imagine this (and judging by the trailers, it’s also the job of the people who made the new Carrie film). I don’t like it, but that doesn’t mean I try to deny it exists. In fact, someday I may use it in a short story and use it against the very people who indulge in such abominable practices.

  11. Bravo!!! I cannot convey how much I agree with your (and Huffington’s) comments! I have a son with autism, high functioning, but still the target of bullying. The pathetic thing is when I try to speak with parents, a significant percentage actually justify inappropriate treatment by their adolescent (and years prior, child). I literally had a man threaten to beat the **** out of me for professionally telling his son violence was not appropriate and I would press assault charges when his son threatened to punch my child. My child did nothing but walk to the bus stop and smile. We can see the fruit does not fall far from the tree.

    In addition, being 45, I notice people act out more since technology came into the picture. Some of the texts, emails and Facebook postings would are utterly cruel. I do not like the way technology enables people to act like barbarians because social media puts a layer between the barbarian and the subject addressed with caustic words. Even comments left on some of the blogs are ridiculous. I noted a homosexual writer receiving hateful comments from a woman who was commenting as a non-wordpress subscriber. I called her out as an evil, coward for hiding behind anonymity and slandering for no reason. She then says, “I am not hiding behind anything, my name is Katie.

    Taunting and bullying has risen to a new level. Entire websites are dedicated to it (i.e. Walmart photos) and personally, it makes me sick. I applaud you and Huffington for bringing this to the forefront.

    Linda of Indiana, USA

    1. Thanks very much for commenting — and your kind words.

      I can’t imagine your frustration with a man whose child is nasty to yours for amusement. Assault is assault — and I wish more people WOULD press charges. Impunity breeds truly vicious behavior, as you’ve seen.

      It almost makes me long for the “old days” of face to face bullying — when I could (and did) name my tormentors and, as I finally did with delicious satisfaction (sorry) whack one of them on the back of his head in math class (it was a VERY thick textbook that year) to shut him UP….I could not even sit in class to learn, unbothered.

      I have seen a lot of bullying, in my family, in school and in the workplace. It is a toxic epidemic.

  12. As my daughter says: “You go girl!!” And with a thick textbook too! Truly made me smile.

    I would like to add I am much less tolerant than I was formerly. As a child I was taunted for having stained teeth. My mother took tetracyline when pregnant (kidney infection) and it caused my “baby” and primary teeth to grow in a very definite shade of gray. I was called many names.
    Then as an adult I had my beloved son. He is now 13. I have had it with bullying and now have zero tolerance. Hence, I have a restraining order (aka a Protective Order) on my neighbor. His name, now when a background check is done, will show a Protective Order. And if he lives here in two years, I will march my hiney back to the courthouse for a continuation. I feel if people did not tolerate it and demanded their rights (and their child’s right to be free of harrassment), people would think twice.
    So folks, if you or your child is threatened, utilize your rights! I called the police and got a “no trespassing order” first, which protected my child (and I) from harrassment/threats or worse while in the home.
    When the man and his child texted and approached my son in a bullying manner at school, I got a formal protection order. Ridiculous I had to do this so my child is free of harrassment. But I tell you one thing– the school system no longer minimizes peers taunting my son and the neighbor is in check too. Show them you mean business. You do not need an attorney to file for either a No Trespass Order of a Restraining Order.
    Thank you for the platform to share this info. I realized after I made my first comment I could have educated people of their rights.
    Have a great weekend!

    1. Wow. Good for you for being so actively and effectively protective of your son. People need to know their rights and use them — we won’t tolerate physical abuse (hello, cops!?) but somehow verbal abuse is meant to be “harmless.” As if.

      I was amazed that my teacher did not chastise me, but they all knew and saw the BS I had been facing for years. The teacher’s willingness to let me react in my own way (even if, really, not much better) meant a lot to me.

  13. I just saw one the other day–a picture of a heavy woman taken from behind unbeknownst to her, with a snarky message. There was no place to comment, dammit, probably on purpose. Bullies rarely like to be confronted. That makes them cowards.

    I do think the anonymity of the internet brings out the meanness, but only in those who tend to be mean, anyway. It just gives them a bigger, safer platform where creeps can gather and do the wink, wink, nudge, nudge thing together. They don’t have sense enough to be embarrassed by their behavior, so calling them out is a waste of time. Ignoring them works for me.

    (I thought it was funny, too, that the original piece was on HuffPo. They’re the model of snarky meanness.)


    1. Wow, that was situation was OUTSTANDING, and a hope to humanity that internet trolls will one day learn to keep their snide, pointless commentry to themselves and channel all that hate energy to something more positive.

  14. Loved the two sides to this blog
    One slow down, yes we should all enjoy the now as it is actually all we have. Tomorrow never comes and to worry over the past is a waste of time.
    By slowing down we are also helping our health. Our adrenal glands and something we need healthy to keep us alive, do not enjoy fast life – fast food – pollution.
    So give your health a fighting chance too by slowing down.
    Two the meanies. A lot of us will relate to being bullied in school or at work and to realise it is going on thru the internet is so sad. I’m not going to spend time trawling to see if anyone has snapped a photo of me in my too short shorts today. Yes I am over weight but I have had a serious health problem with my thyroid and my adrenal glands and I still have life changes to make. I’ve come a long way and now help others throgh this illness. So I’ll forget the insult opportunities and leave the pig happy in the mud.
    Let’s just sat in the slow lane and enjoy now.
    Well written, hope you don’t mind if I share……

    1. Thanks for joining the conversation — and your kind words.

      I’m sorry you’re facing health challenges, as many of us do, or will. People need to be a lot less judgmental and lot more compassionate.

  15. Pingback: In Praise Of The Shot Not Taken | Life Lessons

  16. Pingback: Never wrestle with a pig. The pig loves it and you just end up exhausted and covered in mud. | Recovering me

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