Why are people so mean?

Throughout my many years as a therapist, I have had the opportunity to think about some of life’s biggest questions with some of the world’s smallest people. How lucky I have been to be part of the process of helping kids figure things out for themselves. Here’s an inside look at one such conversation:

Kid: “Why are some people so mean?”
Me: “Wow what a great question! What do you think?”
Kid: “I don’t know.”
Me: “Let’s think about that for awhile.”
Kid: “I dunno.”
Me: “Well, that question reminds me of another question.”
Kid: “What?”
Me: “Why are some people so nice?”
Kid: “Cuz that’s just who they are and how they are.”
Me: “I bet that’s probably part of it.”
Kid: “Maybe they’re so nice because that’s how they choose to be.”
Me: “WOW! You mean we can choose to be nice, even if we don’t want to be?”
Kid: “Yeah, we can. Nice is a choice. So is mean.”
Me: “I’d say you’re pretty good at answering those big questions you come up with.
Kid: “Some things we just have to sit and think about for awhile.”

While this child and I continued on about this discussion for awhile, and I assessed whether or not he was being bullied (he was not)…it got me to thinking a little more about this on my own.

Alone in my office at the end of that meeting, I was left with my own thoughts on the subject:

“Being mean is less of a reflection of where someone has been in their life as much as it a reflection of where they want to go in their life.”

This is true from the classroom to the boardroom.

What do you think?

(This post originally appeared on my examiner.com page.)


I can see it in the boardroom. I don't know how conscious kids are of their choice to be mean. Often they're caught up in the moment and doing it for their "audience". Many don't even see it as being mean, they just see it as making their friends laugh.

I wonder how many children make a conscious choice to be mean as the direction they want to go in their life. It's a very good question. If I think about it for a while, I might be able to answer it myself.
Aha! Which peels back yet another layer of all of this. Perhaps those in the boardroom aren't even "trying" to be mean. If some forms of "mean-ness" are motivated by an egocentric stance...putting myself in a one-up position, gaining momentum for my own cause, and yes...even making others laugh...it all points back to the need for empathy...which further highlights the need for those crucial social-emotional skills.
Very well said. That's pretty much exactly what was percolating in my mind, but I don't have the skills to articulate. You sure do though!

Oh, you've got skills alright...and they can be seen here: http://www.theanimatedwoman.com/

Your articulation is never lacking, either!
naomi said…
I am not sure. Gosh I think I am going to have to think about that for a while. Being mean is also about how we feel in the moment about ourselves too. We are mena because we dont want someone to have what we have or we want what they have. I will ponder some more.

I know. The more we think about it, there more there is to think about!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Wendy =)

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