Why are People Mean to Each Other?

Why are People Mean to Each Other?

Below is a news clipping I found in a cigar box in a closet today.  This was written by an old wise man and great pastor in Sonoma California during the late 1980's and 1990's.  

I find his words to be prophetic and more relevant today then it was a quarter century ago when he wrote this 500 word editorial in a small-town newspaper. 

Why are People Mean to Each Other?

By Msg.r John J. O’Hare
Pastor, St. Leo’s Catholic Church
Boyes Hot Springs

During a recent brief vacation with the family, my little 7-year old grand-nephew and I witnessed a loud argument between a couple while at the beach. Matt turned to me and asked, “Why can’t people be nice?” He’s a precocious expert on dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures, and so I was somewhat startled by his venture into philosophy. “I don’t know,” I answered, and he gave me a look of disdain and then went chasing after his 3-year-old sister who had swiped his beach ball.

I’ve been thinking about Matt’s question and am no nearer an answer. Why are people mean to each other? Why are confrontation and litigation so prevalent in our society? Why do movies that feature violence and mayhem do so well and attract so many viewers? Why, throughout the world, do so many folds dedicate their time and effort into maiming and murder and destruction, so often, ironically, for the glory of their God? Even in this newspaper one so often reads about local mean behavior: in the extensive police and sheriff’s reports, in front page stories, in various letters to the editor.

Well, as a clergyman trained in the scholastic tradition, I could blame it all on original sin. Or to quote the well-known comedian: “the devil made me do it.” It does seem to be true that there exists in our perennial society a primitive and animal instinct to strike out at others, especially when our turf and our interests are threatened. “It’ em before they hit us!”

Maybe there is an inherent weakness in our human nature, a basic aptitude of violence toward those whom we disagree. One thing I do notice: we, and indeed our society seem to have diminished sense of humor. We take everything so literally and we are so easily offended and self-focused that our response is defensive in nature and leads us to strike back in anger at even a chance remark. If a fire of contention is lit, we pour out our own brand of gasoline to stoke it up. And what is petty and trivial becomes gigantic because we can’t laugh at our selves. We take ourselves so seriously.

True dialogue requires a sense of humor, patience and an ability to see, whether we agree or not, the other side of an issue. Only the Pope claims to be infallible, and I wonder about that. We are mean to each other when we put on our blinkers and see others as threats to our comfort and our pet beliefs. We overcome mean-spirited-ness when we can relax, laugh at ourselves, and work to reach a peaceful accommodation with our antagonist, whether this be between nations, between neighbors, or between members of the same family. This is a large part of the road that leads to peace, a journey well worth the effort to try.
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