We all can think of certain people, from childhood to the present, who seem to have a “mean gene.” Gene is probably not the most accurate word, but the rhyme is catchy. Really, it’s an attitude. We see it in people in our community, or on TV burning and looting as a pretense for protest. We see it in cyberbullying or even from some of our leaders. My family has called it the “mean gene” for a long time. It could be hereditary since some dispositions are genetic. But more often it is a choice. Life events can hit us in a certain way, and we may always respond in a mean-spirited way. While some people just choose to be nasty since there can be short term rewards to being a jerk, many folks seem to erupt in meanness out of habit and may even regret it later.
In my single digit years, my siblings and I named a neighbor kid “Bad Danny” because even at the tender age of eight, he seemed to take a delight in being destructive and cruel to other kids, animals and even his toys. Once he took a stray cat by the tail and repeatedly twirled it around in circles and then just let go. We were horrified, and even I, at seven years old, knew that was abnormal. In eighth grade, one of the most popular girls in school was mean to anyone she deemed not worthy to be her friend or even in her presence. No one wanted to go to the girl’s bathroom and find themselves alone with her. She was just plain nasty.
I once had the unpleasant experience of being in the girl’s bathroom alone with her. With her perfectly coifed hair and expensive clothes, she looked me up and down and said “get smart Kistler.” Mom cut my hair and our clothes were from sales, so I felt pretty inferior. Just having aced one of many tests that school year, at least I knew I actually was smart. My inner monkey got the best of me that day, and I responded back “I already am smart.” She was silenced since she was not the brightest brain in the class, but I immediately felt bad and sorry for her. I remember talking to my mom about that after school. Mom was a gentle, kind and very smart woman. She said that girl was silenced because she couldn’t buy brains and couldn’t buy being nice. She got her energy from being haughty and cruel, but really, was that way in order to feel superior to others because was she insecure and angry. But I didn’t know why.
I didn’t run into very many “mean gene” types in college, probably because I was able to make more of my own choices with the company I kept. But when a person leaves the halls of higher education and goes into the work force, we run into this mean gene “syndrome” yet again in the form of office politics, gossip, backstabbing, and one-upmanship. In some workplace environments, a sort of “groupthink” evolves in tolerating these bad behaviors that actually models junior high bully attitudes. But when you need a paycheck, you just cope with the meanies or look for new employment.
Our last president had that mean gene, and while I am a staunch Republican, I was never comfortable with his sophomoric derisions of those he considered as adversaries, fools or both. After the brutal campaigns of 2020, I know many politicians may have won had they simply had more grace and ran on their own merit rather than putting down their opponents.
Whether citizen, politician or otherwise, we could all take the advice of President Abraham Lincoln, who was no one’s fool but got his point across with grace and humor. Next time you feel a mean streak coming on, here are some thoughts from Honest Abe to thwart it:
“Most folks are generally as happy as they make their mind up to be.” ... “Those who look for the bad in people will surely find it” ... “You can tell the greatness of a man, by what makes him angry”
“Tact: The ability to describe others as they see themselves”
“I am rather inclined to silence, and whether that be wise or not, it is at least more unusual nowadays to find a man who can hold his tongue than to find one who cannot.”
“Better to remain silent and thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt”
“I would rather be a little nobody, then to be an evil somebody.”
“With Malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.”
Linda Dahlen is a Messenger contributing writer.