Why you so mean?
People can be so mean.
Seriously. People can really go out of their way to fuss, cuss and generally put others “in their place.” I think maybe we’re in love with being that person in the movie who shouts down the antagonist or sits in comfortable smugness after telling off someone who was clearly wrong. I think we are programmed where any infringement on the sovereign territory of “our calm” should be met with a jolt of anger, hatred and meanness. Mess up my coffee order and I break your face. Ask me for something and I roll my eyes, laugh about you to my coworkers and not care if you hear me or not.
The meanness can show itself in many subtle forms. It can be a curt email. It can be several audible sighs during presentations. It can be in a condescending attitude over the phone. There are glares, frowns, head shakes or snide comments…all sorts of stuff.
The thing is it’s not necessary. Now, I’m saying this as a man who has endured a few infuriating customer service situations and a couple of bummer circumstances with military SNAFUS. Meaning I’ve had a lot of opportunities to fill up with righteous indignation. Many of my friends have looked at how calm I attempt to remain during these trying times and say, “You’re a better man than I.”
And while I appreciate that they are indirectly saying I need to get angry more often, I persist that a calm response is the wiser approach in situations.
I mean, seriously. Srsly. It takes as much effort to engineer a jerk thing to say as it does to let things go. It takes as much time (sometimes more) to chew out and curse than it does to say “thanks” and move on. What do we get out of one of these tirades? Satisfaction? Some sort of revenge? Fulfilment? Is there some committee out there silently keeping score? Does it get us a better job? Does it give us more friends?
When I was working retail and jobs in the service industry, I had a few doozies when it came to angry customers. Hell, as an Army journalist, I’ve been chewed out by every rank from E1 to O6 (parents of high school athletes are the most vitriolic). Every once in a while the situation was because of something I did, but most of the time the person was raging against circumstances completely out of my control.
When the angry customer was done telling me I’d never amount to anything and that I was an oxygen thief, that I had ruined Thanksgiving (actual story) or whatever else they had pent-up, I went about my day. I still had other customers to get to or other stories to write. I don’t know what the angry person thought would happen—maybe that I would collapse and weep, maybe that I would burst into flames. Who knows. After each tantrum, I would say my obligatory apologies and go about my life.
The Kingdom of God was still intact. I still had however-many credits toward a degree. My mom still loved me. I was good.
And, on the giving end of such an exchange, the few times I have blown my top and called down columns of fire from heaven to swallow up my bookstore-cashier-adversary, what have I really accomplished? I’ve satisfied some twisted prideful need, but I’m not any better of a person. Other than a few times with bullies in school, it’s not like rage or anger ever protected me or made me into a better person.
So when my coworker talks about how evasive, mean and terse a colleague is over the phone—how a simple “can you send me XYZ?” turns into a back and forth exchange where my coworker has to defend how and why her boss wants XYZ from our colleague’s boss—I shake my head. Why does it have to be so difficult? Why do we, the normal people—not prime ministers, not executives, not kings/queens, princesses nor princes—but people who aren’t bound by national consequence and are free to live and love as freely as the birds—why are we so mean?
Call me too patient all you want, but that’s not really an insult. I’m immovable in my self identity. I’m damn proud of where God has put me after 29 years. He’s even seen fit to bless me a bit—give me a job, a good clutch of friends. If I don’t see fit to erupt into a fit of rage at the Blockbuster guy, maybe it’s because not only would anger not resolve anything, but maybe it’s because I’m more of a guy who thinks the world could do with less meanness.