When a person is mean to others, things don’t go his or her way. After all being mean to others makes bad things happen.
Or does it?
Cause and Effect
We understand cause and effect. If I throw a ball against a wall, it will bounce back. If I push the gas pedal in a running car, the engine will rev. If I yell at Janice from accounting, my paycheck will get “lost in the mail”. One thing leads to another.
It’s not to hard to see cause and effect in behavior as well. If I make people feel good about themselves, they like to be around me. If I always win at chess people don’t like to play with me (I have no experience to prove this is true). And Janice… well Janice tells me that my paycheck is surely on it’s way – just give it another week or two.
Simple Cause and Effect
It’s quite easy to see that treating people well can have a positive outcome on a relationship and treating them poorly can have a negative effect on a relationship. Sure there are exceptions, as people are complex with complicated histories, but, all things being equal, this is true.
We often look at this as simply the laws of nature: this is how things are. If someone mistreats someone, bad things will happen. Which is true.
And that’s the exact reason that it’s not like we think.
Back It Up
We like to think that people doing mean things causes bad results. The person who yells at the waiter will get bad service. The person who is mean to coworkers will find themselves isolated and alone. The person who mistreats their kids will face later life without the comfort of family.
It’s true. It’s simple cause and effect. Only, we’re looking at the wrong cause and the wrong effect.
We like to think that mean people get bad results. But perhaps more accurately bad results makes people mean.
After all, if we believe in cause and effect – people mistreat others and then others mistreat them back – what caused that person to mistreat others in the first place?
My Painful Truth
When I was younger I was pretty happy go lucky. I wasn’t perfect, but I wasn’t angry. I strived to be kind and look out for others and seek out people who needed help and help them.
But when I became older I fell for someone who was abusive. Although I’ve since learned the psychology of why, it’s more important to discuss the results.
Everything I did was wrong. Everything bad that happened to her was my fault. Walking in the door from work everyday was pretty much a guarantee that I was going to be slammed with all her anger from everything that happened to her that day.
That, in turn, made me angry, and hurt, and depressed, with no one to share it with. So I started to lash out at people. I began to push people away expecting they would care enough to push back. (Sadly, they never did). I became less like me and more like her.
That relationship is now in my rear view mirror. There are still things that make me angry, hurt, and depressed. But I don’t have people taking out their anger on me daily. I’m more myself. I’m not perfect, but I’m also not angry. I’m more patient and I strive for understanding.
Sowing and Reaping
When we think of mean people, we think about them getting their “just desserts”. We relish the fact that one day they will reap the results of their actions.
But their meanness is itself a result. It’s the result of someone else’s meanness toward them. People don’t wake up happy and say “I’m going to be mean today.” People wake up angry, hurt, and depressed and push people around hoping those people push back with love and kindness. (They rarely do).
It’s true we reap what we sow, but we also reap what others have sown in us. If we want a kinder world, we can’t abandon the mean-spirited people in it. We must show them kindness. We must show them love. We must show them understanding.
Maybe we’ve got kindness backward. Maybe it’s not that when people are kind they’re treated kindly in return. Maybe instead, we need to realize that the more we treat people kindly, they more they will be kind.
Kindness and meanness are simply plants. The more we plant the right one, the more of it we get.