My “musing” a few weeks ago focused on a 7-year old boy’s question: “What ideas do you have about how to stop the mean people?” Since seeing his question on a poster he made and placed on his family’s garage door in my neighborhood, I sought answers to pass along to him. The response was overwhelming. Answers came from all over the country. I passed them on to Lukas’ mother. Lukas was amazed and touched. His parents talked to his teacher and got the school involved in discussing his question. I met with Lukas’ mom, dad, and twin sister last week. I asked Lukas: “Why did you ask this question? Why does it matter to you?” “A boy punched my sister at school and it made me mad,” he answered. His mom said that she’d been volunteering with homeless people on LA’s Skid Row recently, and in discussing it with her kids, Lukas became upset that such poverty existed. Indeed, Lukas is beginning to grapple with the problem of evil.
I can only include a few of the responses I got to my “musing” here. Here’s a sampling:
From members of a church in western Massachusetts, whose pastor posed the question to them in her sermon:
What if instead of people being victims, they know that a bully is insecure and wants to bring them down? Have compassion and pay attention.
Hurt people hurt people.
I know I can be mean. It’s a good idea to start with myself. My family can be mean. I try not to, but then I get jealous and unkind. It has to start with me.
Mean people need to be listened to and release anger—then they won’t feel the need to hurt.
All it takes for evil to flourish in this world is for good people to be silent. If you see something, say something.
There is no such person as a mean person. The person is suffering, Show compassion.
Have empathy for those who are hurting and hurt others. Listen to them and when they feel heard, tell them of the impact on others of being mean.
From Belmont, CA: I say love them! Be kind to them! It will drive them crazy!
From Salt Lake City, UT: William Wilberforce discovered that to get a people interested in ending the slave trade (utter meanness) he had to get his countrymen (the British) to end their coarse habits of attending public hangings, going to cock fights, bear-baiting, and other public crudeness (local meanness).
From Green Valley, Arizona: How do you stop the mean people? Education, education, education. Teach empathy from the earliest years… especially through the animals we love… Give everyone you meet the gift of grace… You never know how hurt someone may be underneath the meanness…. Teach the mean people that THEY too matter.
From Moss Beach, CA: Meanies think someone will love them because they’re ‘cool.’ What’s really cool is to treat everyone with respect and love, even the meanies. Do that, and people will love you, and maybe even the meanies will notice, eventually, that your way just works better than theirs.
From Palo Alto, CA: I find that most mean people do not know they are being mean. Teaching people about hostile behavior (like sarcasm) is a start.
From San Francisco, CA: I think everyone has mean, evil, in them. It is the goal in life to overcome the mean in yourself, and try to show others how they can also overcome their meanness, in themselves. The thing is, people don’t SEE the mean in themselves. The note of “being so kind to the person it makes them crazy” is perfect. The first act of kindness given to the mean person, they receive they probably won’t understand it. Same for the next, hundred. If you continue to be kind and forgive the mean person, they may start to realize that their meanness fire has been diffused so many times that it’s not worth continuing being mean, and it’s not getting the reaction they need to re-fuel their fire. They may also realize that they have been forgiven a million times for being mean, and feel relief. They may start to live life realizing that being mean takes a ton of negative energy and time, and that being nice and kind to others, and forgive others for being mean, actually makes you feel good. But this is all a MAYBE. Some people may realize and understand, change, and become kind. It is our responsibility to persevere and be kind no matter what. Because – sometimes we ourselves may sometimes slip up and be mean to others. Wouldn’t you want to be forgiven, again, when you made a mistake, and were remorseful, and wanted to move on, and be free and clear to be nice again? In the meantime, those of us who are in the process of constantly forgiving others who are constantly mean to them, we suffer and feel the pain of being abused, and it feels so unfair. But that is also part of the goal, which is VERY HARD: get to the point that forgiving also means letting go of the feeling of suffering, abuse, and injustice. It’s hard, but we have to focus on it.
When I visited Lukas and his family last week, I brought along our granddaughter, Rumi, who is also 7 years old. Very carefully she wrote down her answer for Lukas with pencil on paper, and put it in the plastic container he had placed under his sign on the family’s garage door: “Be love. Give love.”
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