I remember when I was in third grade walking to my gym class asking my teacher, Mr. Szymanski, the most perplexing question of my life, “Why are people mean?” He had no answer. I’ve been searching for it ever since.
Maybe, just maybe, I’m getting closer to understanding how to answer it.
Kids will do that for you – help you answer questions that you couldn’t answer before you were a mom. When questions arise in your children and they look at you with those love-filled, innocent eyes, you feel obligated to provide some kind of an answer.
So once again I ponder the questions I asked long ago. This time with much more experience, much more knowledge and maturity.
What have I come up with?
Well…with respect to today’s question…here’s what I said to the kids:
“People are often mean when bad things have happened to them. If people don’t address whatever hurt they feel right when it happens, it sits inside them and festers. It stays inside if they don’t deal with it and begins to slightly change,” I explained. “And then?” they asked. “Well, then they turn that hurt into anger and they lash out at other people–people who probably had nothing to do with what hurt them. But what we have to understand is that it has nothing to do with us. Okay, sometimes we might provoke it, but the intensity, the whole of their anger, really is not about us.”
“So what can we do?” they wondered.
“You can be compassionate and feel sad for them, maybe say a prayer if that’s your kind of thing, but just listen, hear them and then walk away. If nothing else, you can learn how you do not want to be. You can use it as an example of what not to do in your life. Don’t try to change them, don’t judge them. Just accept them as they are and move on. Focus on your own life and what you’re learning in your life. How you’re growing and changing and improving yourself,” I added.
“Every encounter provides an opportunity to learn. So learn something if you can and let it go.”
I continued, “We will probably never really know why certain people are mean. But it’s not for us to know or for us to understand. It’s just important that we tolerate them and feel compassion for them. And don’t let it change who we are. We can’t let it pull us into a negative place where we return the meanness with our own jabs of anger. Let’s keep our intentions pure.”
“Grandma always said, ‘If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything.’ Let’s live by that and focus on what’s good in our lives,” I urged.
“It might be tempting to wish that all difficult people would just disappear down some dark bottomless pit, but that’s no solution. There will always be difficult people in our lives. Always. We can’t run away from them. We can’t change them,” I continued. “But when we encounter them, we can choose to go deeper into our selves and find the soft spot within ourselves. Not to make ourselves more vulnerable, rather to remember who we are and feel the compassion in our hearts. Let their rage pass by us like a hot wind. Observe it as it flies past, but just let it fly. It will pass. Just give it time.”
Then I reminded them, “Every night we say, ‘I forgive myself for any mistakes I made today, I correct them, learn from them and then I let them go.’ The letting go part is especially important. When we choose to hang onto anger or turn it into resentment or bitterness, we start walking down the darker path. We, too, then have unresolved feelings festering inside us. So let go. Trust that it’s not up to us to deal with all the injustices in the world. But it is up to you to be the best YOU you can be. For today, choose to not be a difficult person.”
You know, being a mom actually helps you figure out life.