In fact, I am mean.
When I go to the food store, I think mean things about many of the complete strangers I encounter there. If I’m not pregnant, and I’ve just had a cup of coffee, I am very good at not sharing any of these mean thoughts. On good days, I may even think some nice thoughts. But on bad days, I not only think mean things, I find a way to say them. Sometimes it’s just a nasty tone or a sarcastic comment, but on really bad days, it’s much worse. And I may not even feel badly about how I have behaved until hours later.
On a normal day, when I approach the checkout counters, I scan the workers and look for the most capable cashier (this will be the fastest line). I make snap judgments about who looks dumb or slow, and I avoid their line. I also scan those in line in front of me, and I judge them. “That person over there looks like she might struggle to find the right credit card. That woman over there definitely plans to pay with a check and it will take forever. That woman is dressed funny and I don’t want her to talk to me.” I do this automatically. If I make a conscious effort not to make these judgments and just pick a line, I wait and stew over how long it is taking and how slow everything is moving. On good days I smile and nod when the cashier apologizes, saying “that’s ok.” But I’m being dishonest. Deep down, I am blaming her slow cashier skills for the delay and I’m vowing to never get in her line again. For a brief moment, I am even considering never returning to that store.
My meanness isn’t limited to the shopping experience. It is my disposition. I see people dressed in sweatpants for Mass and I judge them. “What is that guy thinking, tapered grey sweatpants are not appropriate for an afternoon on the soccer field, let alone a Sunday morning at Church.” Sometimes I even think mean things about people wearing jeans, even though I have worn jeans to Mass myself. That’s how mean I am. I don’t think about how they might be poor and unable to afford proper clothes for Mass. I don’t think about how they may not know how to dress appropriately because nobody ever taught them. I don’t think about how they may have been up all night at the local hospital with a sick family member and they are making a heroic effort to just show up at Mass in their sweatpants or jeans. I don’t think any of these forgiving, gracious thoughts because I am mean.
I am not alone. My husband is also mean (sorry Mr. Red) and most of my friends, including at least some of the builders (sorry ladies!) aren’t naturally nice either. When I thought about it last night, I could only think of a handful of people who are really, truly, nice. And yes, it’s pretty lousy of me to sit around and label all my friends and family members. But what do you expect, I’m mean.
I wonder, do I seek out and befriend mean people, or do most of us just have more naturally mean dispositions? Since I am mean, I want to think that the world is full of mean people, so no one gets an edge on me. But really, I think being mean is a common struggle, especially amongst highly educated people.
So now that I’ve established that I’m mean (and many of you are too), here are some ways that we can be less mean.
1. Remember your talents are a gift. Your intelligence, athleticism, appearance, and other unique abilities are gifts from God. God could have just as easily made your brain work more slowly, made you look unattractive, made you nonathletic, made you tone deaf, or given you any other flawed characteristic in the eyes of this world. Your abilities are a gift, and therefore you should take no personal pride in them.
2. Remember how hard life is for many people. Not everyone went to college. Not everyone grew up in a nice house with parents who loved them. A lot of people have serious baggage due to dysfunctional family relationships. They have never been loved and don’t know how to love. They have never been taught how to be responsible or make good decisions.
3. Remember that you are seriously flawed. This is why you are so mean. Seriously, we all are very flawed. I am mean, impatient, quick to respond, and hot-tempered (I could go on here). If you are having trouble thinking of the ways in which you are seriously deficient, read some writings of the Saints. The Saints were all very holy people convinced they were very flawed and in desperate need of God’s grace. If you don’t see your flaws, you aren’t looking hard enough.
4. Remember that appearances, talents and abilities are not important in the eyes of God. We will not be judged on our talents, but by what we do with those talents (remember the parable of the talents?). Being good is way more important than being talented.
5. Pray for Humility. With God all things are possible. The blind see, the lame walk, and the mean people get nice. Or something like that. To really love other people we must ask for humility. We have to do more than just not say those nasty thoughts in our head. We must pray for the humility not to think them in the first place.
~Lord Jesus Christ, do not permit me to attribute to myself the good that you perform in me and through me, but rather, referring all honor to you, may I admit only to my infirmities, so that renouncing sincerely all vainglory which comes from the world, I may aspire to that true and lasting glory that comes from you. Amen. ~ St. Francis Cabrini