Is mean the new normal?When I researched the word “mean,” I found a number of definitions: According to dictionary.com, the verb form can mean (sorry) “to have in mind as one purpose, to intend to express or indicate, to have as its sense or signification, etc.” My brain hurts! The definition I was seeking was the adjective: offensive, selfish or unaccommodating; nasty; malicious, etc. I am having trouble focusing here. There is a noun form which is defined as “an agency, instrument, or method used to attain an end.” Or in mathematics, a mean is “a quantity having a value intermediate between the values of other quantities; an average.” I may be having a stroke. It’s no wonder the English language is so difficult to learn.

My intent was to focus on the nasty and malicious version, as in “mean people,” but I got sidetracked by the mathematical definition, meaning “average.” Yikes. Are you confused yet? Maybe nasty, malicious people are now considered normal or average. Open, honest communication is supposed to be a good thing, but what happened to finesse and civility? Is “mean” the new normal? Mean can be deceiving and can shatter lives.

Years ago, my friend and coworker Amy met Hank, a guy who promised her everything. He was handsome, strong, and in the military. He was smart and knew stuff that she didn’t. He promised to tell her what he knew someday when she was ready. It seemed like the perfect opportunity for her to fulfill her ambitions and marry someone who could take care of her as it was rare for unmarried women to achieve status in that era, especially as a minority in Utah.

Since Hank was away often and Amy had a good job, she became strong and independent. She was a force to be dealt with. I always enjoyed her company. She was happy and fun, and when we both became pregnant at the same time, our bond grew stronger. When Amy’s son and my daughter were born a day apart in the same hospital, we visited one another in our rooms, and when we went back to work, we kept in touch, even though we worked in different departments for a large company.

As our children grew, Amy and I drifted in different directions, but we still had common bonds. My husband was becoming apathetic, and hers was becoming angry. Hank sensed that he was losing control of Amy and that he was entitled to more. He knew what was best for his family, but Amy wasn’t listening. He tried intimidation, but it wasn’t working. How dare she question his authority? Hank was angry and mean but was still granted supervised visitations with his son because he was still normal. One day, Hank shot and killed Amy during a supervised visit in front of his son and a neighbor.

Years later, I met Eric. He was smart and professional and had status and money. Everyone commented on what a nice guy he was. Everyone was wrong. Eric saw himself as my savior. I was vulnerable. I was still healing from a failed relationship and didn’t have much money. At that time, it seemed like a relief not to have to worry about coming up with funds to pay rent or utilities. Soon, I was dependent on Eric. I even worked for him for awhile and he told everyone I was his wife, even though we never married. He was angry and abusive and never missed an opportunity to undermine my self-esteem. He left me stranded on a dark road one night and manipulated and controlled my pets and children in an attempt to control me. To those outside of the relationship, it appeared that Eric was bit mean but just experiencing normal male frustration. He finally became interested in another women, much to my relief, and I was slowly able to extricate myself from the toxic relationship. His meanness became normal.

Mean people may truly believe that they are educating those who don’t share their viewpoints and can justify aberrant and destructive behaviors for the common good. Mean people suck, but maybe how others react to them enables them to continue. I don’t think anyone would argue that meanness can become cruelty and cripple an entire nation. Nazi Germany is only one example, but most of us are aware of the extreme brutality that was emblematic of the Nazi reign of terror. When someone claims that they have all the answers, know stuff that we don’t, and can fix all our problems and make life easier by ridding us of anything or anyone that obstructs us from obtaining happiness, it’s time to question everything and sever the relationship. Just saying.

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