Being Mean To Someone Is A Terribly InefficientWay To Get Your Needs Met
From interpersonal relations to social media to politics, I’ve never, ever seen being adversarial work out well.
I’ve seen mean. I’ve seen people hurl the most offensive insults in social media. I’ve seen people threaten each other in a dispute. I’ve seen parents being mean to their kids. I’ve seen one faction in politics being cruel to another. It’s all out of spite, and all of it really misses the point of communications anyway.
The only time we ever really talk to other people is because we want something from them. We want something they have, their companionship, or their cooperation. I believe that humans invented language for the purpose of more efficient cooperation. We talk to other people to get what we want, and every word we speak to another is for just one thing, cooperation.
Cooperation is a skill that is baked into our genes. Cooperation is the foundation skill of all of humanity. All human achievement is built upon our capacity for cooperation.
If I have a need, I must have a way to express that need. For babies, the primary means of expression is crying or fussing. Babies don’t have words to describe what they need. They lack the skills to articulate their needs, so they cry and make other noises to get the attention of the parents and to get their needs met.
As humans grow older, we develop the skills of speech. We begin to articulate our needs with words. As a parent, I’ve never seen a child be mean to get what they want unless they learned to be mean from someone else. Children are at an enormous disadvantage when it comes to getting their needs met. They are cute and cuddly precisely for the purpose of appealing to our sympathies. Being mean is the least productive way for babies and young kids to get their needs met.
Many of us have had power struggles with our parents and have been raised by parents who believed that punishment and reward were the primary means of extracting compliance from kids. I didn’t know that compliance is something to be extracted from kids. It’s as if some parents actually believe that if they are mean enough, cruel enough, that they can get their kids to behave. I’ve seen this tried and I’ve never seen it work. I’ve seen reports in the news and the literature that led to fatal results for the kids. Some parents do not understand that a child’s will is inexorable.
But a child’s will is always subject to influence. I have found that I can distract a child who is going in a direction that I don’t want her to go in. I can talk to a child and offer something else to do. I don’t have to be mean to get compliance. I don’t have to use threats to get compliance. Often, with a little conversation and some gentle interrogation, I can find out what problem the child is trying to solve and help her solve it.
What does all this have to with adults? Many of us are really just kids in big bodies. “An elderly person is a kid who looks in the mirror and says, ‘What the hell happened?’” Many of us missed our childhood. We didn’t see ourselves growing up. We didn’t notice the time passing. We didn’t learn how to articulate some of our needs, much less even identity them. When we felt our needs were not met, we did what our parents did, we used threats, coercion, and bribes to get our needs met.
Then as adults, it seems natural to use threats and coercion to get our needs met. Sure, we have a job, and we know how to earn a living. But in relationships, behind closed doors, every bit of unresolved business we had with our parents comes rushing out in front of our spouses or our kids.
Under the veil of an anonymous handle in social media, we can treat others with wild abandon. We can be profane, insulting, and at times, make threats with no apparent consequences. I’ve seen all that and more hurled at me just for stating an opinion. I’ve been at the receiving end of some really vitriolic correspondence, and even with everything that I know now, that still came as a surprise. But I knew enough then, to be able to consider the source. I considered the question of whether such vitriol is a productive exercise in getting what that person wanted. The obvious answer is, no.
I’ve tried being mean to others in retaliation, or to get what I wanted. I have never, ever seen it work. Not only did I not get what I wanted, but I also lost influence and companionship with, and broke the trust of the other person. I lost sleep over what I said or did. I felt so awful at times, that I resolved to try something else. I resolved to err on the side of peace.
I’ve seen people being mean to others in politics. I’ve studied the civil rights movement and I just could not understand why anyone would want to be mean to another person just because that person is black. No basic human needs can ever be met through discrimination and acts of violence in the name of racism.
Along the same lines, in political discourse, it is not possible to meet a basic human need when one faction insults another faction. Yes, there may be momentary satisfaction, maybe even exhilaration, but any sense of gratification is temporary, and it is learned. People must learn to assign a positive value to a negative outcome.
1 * -1 is -1. This is elementary math. It is not possible to engage in negative and destructive behavior and expect a positive outcome. I’ve tried it and it doesn’t work. People have lost sleep and endured constant distraction after being mean to someone else. I’ve been haunted for days after being mean to someone. I really dislike how I feel after being mean to someone, even if they’ve been mean to me. So I avoid it. I find some other way to get my needs met.
If I feel the impulse to be mean to someone, I check in and find out where that impulse is coming from. I find a way to quell the disturbance. I think through all of the possible outcomes. I ask myself if what I’m about to say would give my power to someone else. I know it may seem counter-intuitive, but when we’re being adversarial with someone else, we are giving them our power. Every act of coercion or threat of force only gives power to someone else. If they don’t do what you want them to do, they own you.
So I change my mind. I choose to err on the side of peace. I make a daily resolve that in all my interactions with others, I will err on the side of peace. I strive to be neutral in all of my affairs, and I use neutral language to the greatest extent possible.
This isn’t to say that I’m perfect or that I even want to be. I just want to be able to sleep at night. I want to rest my head on my pillow knowing that I did the right thing today. I want to go to bed knowing that I don’t have to look over my shoulder the next day. I want to rise the next day with a clear conscience, ready to embrace the day. I want to start the day knowing that I can get my needs met without giving someone else my power, and still err on the side of peace.