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Peace with Mean People

Understanding mean people and how to cope when they attack you. You'll need more than holy water, garlic, and a crucifix.

The art of parenthood is best rewarded when my kids call me mean. When they say “mean,” what I hear is structured, disciplined, safe. I’m not mean. I’m a mom. At least I don’t think I’m mean.

My kids have been learning the difference between mommy mean and real mean. The world is full of mean people and bad things. And I’ve been struggling to explain the difference.

Bad things just happen. is outside of our control. Illness and death and disasters happen.

Mean people are deliberate. They directly or indirectly take pleasure in hurting people's feelings. Try explaining that to a seven year old.

A boy has been picking on my daughter. He pinches her when no one is looking. He calls her stupid and a baby. One day she came home upset about it. It wasn’t just the fact of his meanness, but why. She wanted to know why he was mean. After all, I’ve given her pretty good explanations for why the sky is blue and why bad things happen. Why can’t I explain mean people? I can't, but I do know how to spot them.

Different kinds of mean people

  • Some mean people think they are being funny. Jokesters.
  • Some mean people think they are being honest or constructive. Honest to a fault.
  • Some mean people think they (and only they) are right. By the book.
  • Some mean people take pleasure in feeling superior. Royalty.
  • Some mean people have been hurt and only feel good when others hurt, too. Angry at the world.
  • Some mean people use meanness as an excuse for why they don’t have friends. Loner.

How to react to mean people

For my daughter, I advised the following: “If he touches you, speaks to you, or looks at you again, tell him to stop. Use your own mean voice (“Angry at the world”) when you say stop. Then tell the teacher you told him to stop, and you don’t like it when you are pinched or teased.”

The only way to stand up to mean people is being calm and assertive back.

I had a boss who used to tell me my shoes were ugly on a regular basis. She was mean person. I’d tell her that I loved my shoes and that my feet were comfy and happy. But she repeatedly made fun of my shoes. I started saying to her every morning, “Don’t you love how happy my feet looked today?” Eventually, she stopped being a bully about it. By being assertive and happy, I took the power away from her.

There are few bullies around Decatur. One hates my column and loves to critique my juvenile writing. Hey, writing about motherhood should be Pulitzer Prize winning stuff. He attempted to send me a few mean tweets, but I always responded with thanks (he was after all my most faithful fan). 

Another reader loves to point out the typos and grammatical errors in my columns. I’ve have four kids, a full-time job, and a life. Do you think I’m worried about dangling modifiers?  

What do I do now? I correct my typos when I can, and I live with the ones I miss. Somehow I’m still able to sleep at night. If the kids let me.

Mean people are everywhere. Don’t let someone’s meanness ruin your day.

  • Work meanies. We spend so much time at work. Don’t let someone else’s negativity ruin 60 hours of your week. It is okay to speak up for yourself.
  • Driving meanies.  They drive like they own the road. Let them have it. Let them pass. You don’t own the road either. Isn’t it better to get somewhere safely than on time? Giving someone the finger is just being a meanie back too.
  • School meanies. Boys who have crushes on you do not tease you. Period. Teach your kids from an early age that kids who want to be their friend are nice. All the time.
  • Family meanies.  It is easier to be mean with our families because we can let our guard down. We don’t have to communicate the same way we do at work and with our friends. Your mom might think that you are fat, ugly, working a dead-end job, living the wrong life. If you agree, do something to change your life. If you disagree, be proud of who you are and tell your family members to stop being critical.
  • People that hate the world. They hate politics, religion, relationships, and happiness. Here’s my rule: Either make your own happiness or stay away from me. Don’t be afraid to steer clear of mean people. Unfriend them. Unfollow them. Don’t fall into their cycle of cynicism and anger.
  • Internet meanies. It’s very easy to be mean online. It is distant, and you would never be so bold in real life. People who are looking for legitimate conversations encourage debate, they don’t disparage or condemn. Ignore internet meanies.

The Devil Made Me Do It

In truth, I am mean. Sometimes. We are all mean without even knowing it, and recognizing our own meanness is difficult. Maybe we are tired or hurt or irritated. Maybe we lack the courage to step away. Sometimes we lash out instead.

A friend of mine recently saw a mother chastising her son for wanting to read "Amelia Bedelia" because it was a “girl book.” Wow. That’s mean. Parents can be the most devastatingly mean people on the planet. Have you ever seen it in yourself? Don't look for meanness in others. Look for it in yourself.

The best lesson for our kids is how to recognize when we are being mean. We can't change other people, but we can change ourselves. , but you do need to be good. You do need to be reasonable. That’s a tough one to swallow. Believe me. I’ve been trying to teach it to my kids.

Diane Loupe October 30, 2011 at 02:56 PM
Nicki, There's somebody who attacks me regularly. It seems to be the nature of online journalism that posters take license to be mean. As for your daughter's bully--sometimes little boys who like girls show their affection this way. Why? I dunno.
Jen Castleberry October 30, 2011 at 05:23 PM
Love this article! My oldest is dealing with a mean locker neighbor. He tells her to be quiet in Spanish. It's driving her crazy!
Nicki Salcedo October 30, 2011 at 05:41 PM
Diane, it's dangerous territory. Those who comment can hide behind anonymity and be mean, but as writers and journalists we should be conscience that our words, mean or not, reflect on us and our community. As for the bully, I respectfully disagree. No one showing affection is mean. Age 7 or age 70. This is a myth from the past and probably the reason why some women constantly go after the bad boys. If there are 9 nice boys and 1 mean one, why would I tell may daughter that the mean one might like her? Honestly, I told her he is still learning to behave. We all are.
Nicki Salcedo October 30, 2011 at 05:46 PM
I love your son! It's driving her crazy? He can tell her, "!Lo siento, pobrecito!"
Kendall Grey October 31, 2011 at 03:03 PM
I love what you said about taking power away from meanies. I tell my kids all the time not to give mean people the privilege of a response - mostly, they're just trying to get a rise out of you. If you don't give it to them, you win! One thing my kids learned from their early Montessori education was how to deal with conflict. They were taught that if someone does or says something you don't like, tell them how you feel, why, and what you want them to do about it. "I feel sad that you said my shoes were ugly because I love them and think they're great. If you don't like my shoes, I'd appreciate it if you'd keep it to yourself from now on." Ha!
Nicki Salcedo November 04, 2011 at 06:09 AM
True about people trying to get a rise out of us. I just wish people would be more kind. You can be true to yourself, stick to your opinions, and still be kind. My goal in life is to defeat mean people and bullies. I just need a cape. And ugly shoes. I adore ugly shoes. Thanks for stopping by, Kendall!
D Ebaugh November 06, 2011 at 05:11 PM
Great post! I try really really hard NOT to be mean - most of all not to my family. I think it's so telling that we are least careful with those we love most (because they HAVE to love us, no matter what). I admit - I sometimes fail at being not-mean... but I do feel awful about it later and I apologize.
fisbn November 10, 2011 at 05:15 AM
diane, They directly or indirectly take pleasure in hurting people's feelings. Some mean people think they are being honest or constructive. . Some mean people think they (and only they) are right. By the book. Some mean people take pleasure in feeling superior. Royalty

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