kindness/meanness

This section is for the sharing of personal experiences, concerns, dilemmas, and problems related to living according to the REUEP (now HUEP).
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wvanfleet
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kindness/meanness

Post by wvanfleet »

I was involved in a conversation with someone today during the course of which an interesting interchange took place.  She happened to mention that she tried to be nice to others, but if they were mean to her then she no longer felt a need to be nice to them and could quite justfiably be mean back to them.

I told her that I knew that was the way we tended to do, but that I had come to the conclusion that I did not want to do that.  I said that if I became mean to the other person, I would see myself becoming, at least to a certain extent, a mean person.  I said that I would feel better about myself if I were nice to everyone, even if some were mean to me.  I thought responding to meanness with meanness was on a small level like returning bombs for bombs, and that it would be good if we all worked to transcend this aspect of our basic animal nature.

I believe that I have acquired this idea partly through my religious tradition and partly through life experience, especially that of helping couples in the throes of relationship breakdown.

Perhaps there are exceptions to the general rule, but without some principle to guide me as to when to make an exception, I would have no way to know that I wasn't just basing it upon my feelings of the moment, which often lead people into non-optimal behavior.

I am assuming there are a lot of loose ends to this line of thinking, but I'm not sure what they are.

Bill Van Fleet
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Last edited by wvanfleet on Sat Mar 28, 2009 6:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.

REveritt
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Re: kindness/meanness

Post by REveritt »

I know very few people who are mean most of the time.  Most people are pleasant (or at least civil) most of the time, and only mean in troubled or unthinking moments.  I try to keep this in mind, and let other people's unkind comments roll off. I find that most people will repay kindness with kindness--if not immediately, then after they get over whatever is bothering them.  Of course, some people never "get over it", but being mean to them doesn't do anyone any good.

wvanfleet
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Re: kindness/meanness

Post by wvanfleet »

REveritt wrote: I know very few people who are mean most of the time. Most people are pleasant (or at least civil) most of the time, and only mean in troubled or unthinking moments.
I believe that to a greater or lesser extent people are filled with anger-containing memories, many left from their experience being reared as children and subjected to much punishment, formal and informal. This pile of anger-containing memories can indeed be dormant, or perhaps sometimes inaccessible, but the natural tendency toward the production of anger occurs when situations “remind” the person of some of the anger-containing memories. This leads to an increase in the anger produced by a current anger-producing situation, and even to anger experienced in a situation that is mistakenly experienced as a replay of a set of anger-containing memories. The presence of anger-containing memories, especially when there are many and/or they are intense, leads to a tendency to become angry easily and mistakenly. Even still, some people do not manifest that anger in outwardly hostile behavior, but may nevertheless suffer from it in the form of physical symptoms, anxiety, and unconscious, covert hostile behavior that can be difficult to recognize (for the individual and for others). And chronic anger has been found to have adverse cardiovascular consequences. So chronic anger is a source of much PSDED, I believe.

I try to keep this in mind, and let other people's unkind comments roll off.
Often that’s all one can do. But in an ongoing, important relationship, it may be more optimal to work on the problem that led to the appearance of the anger that motivated the “unkind comment” (hostile behavior). Usually, to work on it effectively takes much skill, best guided by a set of principles that unfortunately almost nobody has. An example of such principles is the anger-prevention paradigm that I teach when working with couples (and sometimes under other circumstances). What we tend to do naturally when experiencing anger indeed tends to make things worse. The purpose of a set of ethical principles about what to do when confronted with the appearance of anger in self or the other is to promote doing that which is optimal rather than that which is natural.

I find that most people will repay kindness with kindness--if not immediately, then after they get over whatever is bothering them. Of course, some people never "get over it", but being mean to them doesn't do anyone any good.
Yes, you and I agree that being mean, or hostile, doesn’t do anyone any good. But do you realize how few of us believe this? We humans believe in, even adore, revenge and punishment.

humanmaybe
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Re: kindness/meanness, relativity & transcendence

Post by humanmaybe »

I am a caregiver for my elderly mother. All her life she has been stubborn to the point of obstinacy and, given the opportunity, a bully, a controller and verbally abusive to those who were close to her, i.e., HER mother, her former husband (my dad).
Alternately, she was also dutiful in that she, as a divorced mother, worked as many as 3 jobs at a time to provide for us, feed and clothe us, and often supported other members of the family who needed a place to stay. Possessor of a fine mind which lacked formal education past the 9th grade, she became a saver, a penny-pincher, almost a Shylock in her attitude toward money and people. She, until very late in life, exhibited little humanitarian spirit unless someone was completely and obviously her "inferior" or in desperate need.

She was determined to have the final word in all things and generally succeeded in that goal.

When she got involved in church in her 60s and 70s, she was happier than ever in her life, but that was based on sand, unfortunately. She came to be more trusting of others for a time, came to believe totally in Jim & Tammy as God's messengers.
My instinct caused me to recoil from them, caution her not to put he faith in man but in God.  She was undone when the truth came out. She then turned to Jimmy Swaggert, against whom I again cautioned her (my instincts are seldom wrong when it comes to wolves in sheep's clothing). After Swaggert, she developed cancer, and after faithful attendance at her church for many years, her new (young) pastor refused to visit her in the hospital,~~ he "just couldn't relate to old people."

Needless to say, her faith was challenged and subsequently died because it was, in fact, her last attempt to believe in her fellow man.

Three more bouts with cancer over the next 20 years, and  then dementia reared its ugly head after an auto accident --another driver negligently ran a red light and hit her--and she suffered head trauma. Her attorney sold her out, said she only had 11 years to live and that wasn't worth much in court and threatened to resign her case if she didn't settle for $6000.
He was, I discovered,  at the time interested in settling a six-figure case he was negotiating with the same company, a fact which he failed to disclose until I pointedly asked about conflicts of interest, after reading her brief~~which resembled a teenager's book report written in the bathroom ~~and her case was being so abominably mishandled.
By the way, anyone shopping in Charlotte, NC for a personal injury attorney should email me for a name to avoid if you are wise :)

Now, Mom suffers from a rather bizarre "selective" dementia and is, nonetheless, due to her years, dependent on me.
This is a living hell that I unknowingly entered as a caring daughter.

I have had an education since becoming a caregiver.

I believed I was very much UN-like my mother, yet I have discovered otherwise.

I have recently succumbed to the temptation to retaliate against her intentional bad behavior by bullying her. I am no longer the tolerant, caring, patient, loving person I have striven to be all my life. I have been verbally abusive to my mother, screamed at her for being her (normal) obstinate self, and her passive-aggressive attitude has even caused me to do what social services could interpret as physical abuse by taking her firmly by the arm and escorting her back upstairs--forcibly sometimes---and returning her to her bed when she behaves like a spoiled child, repeatedly getting up to interrupt whatever I am doing (which is generally trying to recover from mental and physical exhaustion, to unwind from having to attend to her whims and demands for hours and  try to half-finish the chores I have no time for while attending to her) in an ongoing effort to annoy me and force me to focus my attention on her by pushing my buttons.

All my life I have tried to help and have helped others. I could not understand what was happening to me internally. Yes, I was stressed on many fronts, but to feel the core of my being twisted like this was devastating to me.

Recently, though, I had an epiphany: I have in the role of caregiver evolved to become the "force" that my mother has acted against all her life, that which was the source of her resilience in the face of almost impossible odds ...for he life was a very difficult one from childhood and throughout. I've given her a target for her anger, and thus I motivate her to live out of defiance.

I now believe that by radically changing my behavior, I have been unconsciously molding myself into what my mother needs to continue to live. She does not respond well to kindness, as if that is basically alien--even unacceptable-- to her. 
If I am kind, easy, or indulgent, she in short order becomes snide,  bullying, overbearing and obstinate.
Conversely, when I adopt the persona of an unkind person, she struggles against me at first, then appears to relax, becomes pliant and even agreeable. She delivers an "equal and opposite" reaction, much like Newton's Law. 
She is pleased. I am horrified.

I read your comments on kindness not meanness, and I think, what a wonderful world that would be. However, I truly believe that Jesus Christ himself would not have done much better than I have done (if he was NOT given permission to miraculously heal her  nor cast out the fear/anger "demons" which undoubtedly reside inside her...lol).

I mulled this over for a long time. This conflict-based survival was just so...alien an approach to life for me.
I suspected I was onto something.

Further reading fleshed out my theory.
Mother is essentially, a child suffering from "oppositional defiant disorder".  She is seeking to elicit intensity of feeling, for that is when she feels I am most engaged with her. She unwittingly seeks attention yet does not know how to accept loving attention and so elicits something more familiar--anger, chaos, frustration, discord.

She is in her mid nineties. I don't think there is time to "retrain" her child within. Nor do I believe I have the patience at my age to go through such an arduous undertaking. So I continue the charade.
Some might say that is selfish/mean. Some might say that is survivalist (MY survival). Others might believe that my behavior upon  becoming my mother in order to motivate her to keep living is insane. Others might see me as a sacrificial lamb.
But I do love her, and I know how vastly terrified she is of death, as she has no belief in an afterlife anymore.
That is a concept I am trying to work on with her, to ease her mind.
That is all I know how to do. For I do love my mother. She deserved better. She suffered much. She deserves to know there IS something better when we leave the corporeal form behind.
That is also something that, despite many opinions to the contrary, my instinct tells me this is so.
I am not at all religious. I believe all religions must erode and die before the truth of existence is known. I was of course reared in the Christian faith in the South, but never bought into the dogma of the necessity of religion.
I believe we are all here with the wisdom to find the Truth. It's just finding the first bread crumbs to follow...

So much of one's truth is defined by perspective and choosing.

But concepts of "meanness/kindness"?  Not at all as simplistic as one might think upon first considering.

They are surely relative to the immediate situation and the persons involved.
And I dare say this is so in most cases.

If, in fact, our purpose on earth is to learn from each other and then to teach one another, perhaps that UNkind word delivered at precisely the right moment will serve to educate someone else that bullying is generally bad, for instance, or it might even be the EXACT happening that would trigger needed self-awareness. One never knows.

After all, even Hitler WAS a teacher, albeit a horrifying one.

Furthermore, to suppress honest emotion, even if it is anger, is to deny self-expression and perhaps  consequent opportunities to understand ourselves more completely, and that, too, is unhealthy  ~~still another facet of the meanness/kindness conundrum.

Theory of "kindness always"
... useful application of "unkindness"...
and/or extrapolation of the cathartic usefulness of emotion expressed "unkindly"...

Not as simple as one might first think.

Transcendence seems to be that of which you speak, one can only conclude.

And I have to say, I don't think we as a civilization are sufficiently evolved to safely assume that mantle yet.

First one must not ignore that directive, "Know thyself." Whatever path leads there.
Our breadcrumbs leading to that knowledge are our emotions.

Suppressed emotion simply festers into passive aggression, violence, or worse. Worse would be self-destruction.

Perhaps we should just start with a general rule of "try not to hit anyone", and go from there.

Blessings to all,
I exit smiling,

HM

wvanfleet
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Re: kindness/meanness

Post by wvanfleet »

HM,

There is so much truth in what you write, I have found it hard to think of responses that would contribute something more than what you have written. The following are some of my thoughts, though not well-organized, that I think perhaps could be added.

It is well known now that caretaking can have a devastating effect on the caretaker. In your situation, there is the fact of the reduction of the quality of your life, there is the danger to your own health, physical and mental, and there is the possibility of some permanent alteration in your personality that could be detrimental to you and others in the future. On the other hand, there certainly is the possibility that this period of time will promote a significant change in your personality that will be for the better.

One thing that you report suggests indeed that your having to deal with this situation and the changes that it has been bringing about in you has caused a kind of “transcendence,” or understanding at a higher level of who you are. I think this transcendence may provide you with something that can help ward off the negative influences I wrote about above. As you have become aware that your negative behavior has been occurring in response to your mother’s need for it, in order to reduce her suffering, you perhaps through that understanding can still engage in the behavior for that purpose, rather than simply as a direct expression of the anger she has been precipitating in you. Thus, you can perhaps move more toward the kind of experience and behavior that the actor produces in order to do a good job in portraying his or her character.

My best bet is that the actor who engages in “deep acting,” and thus experiences the emotions of his or her character, is not negatively affected by those emotions. Of course the actor only experiences them briefly, during the performance, whereas you are continuously subjected to those situations that produce the anger, but your awareness, while you are engaging in the hostile behavior, makes that hostile behavior something a little different, and may indeed leave you with less “after-burn.”

There is also a possible subtle difference between hostile behavior and firm behavior, but it is unclear whether it is one, the other, or both that seems to be needed by your mother for her reduction in suffering.

I am sure there could be differences of opinion regarding the ethics of your behavior with your mother, but I don’t believe that those opinions necessarily should carry much weight compared to what you conclude from all the thought you have been putting into the matter. There is a tendency for people to assume that there are only certain ways to live life, ways that are dictated by the culture (including the religions of that culture), and people can suffer because of that pressure (worry about what others will think) because of certain irrational values within that culture. Your putting your thoughts in writing as you have done can be an effective antidote to such cultural victimization.

If you are “Humanian,” then what you have to answer to ultimately is the REUEP. Certainly you seem to be using that ethical principle as your guideline, rather than some pronouncements of certain authorities. And you indeed appear to have an openness of mind to evaluate your own conclusions, recognizing that you could indeed change your mind and being open to feedback from others (as you must be by posting this personal material in a forum for comment).

At any rate, I wish you well in your efforts to figure out and implement the ethical thing to do, and I also appreciate your willingness to give the feedback to me regarding what I have written. There may be specific issues that we could profitably discuss, but you have written so much, with so much insight, I do not have any particular thing that I would like to contribute other than the little bit above.

I hope you will continue to explore Humanianity, and to give further feedback regarding the ideas that are discussed in this forum.

My best wishes to you,

Bill Van Fleet

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Re: kindness/meanness

Post by Rock »

Many people report getting a lot of JSA out of revenge. Since it is impossible for another to access their experience, I am felt to take them at their word, or to apply to some "a priori" and unverified psychological theory that says what they say is impossible, and that they are either lying or deluded. Not the best alternatives. :P

wvanfleet
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Re: kindness/meanness

Post by wvanfleet »

Rock, I have just become aware of your posts, and intend to respond to them. You raise excellent questions. Many of these questions are answered in the book about Humanianity (Book2) at Homorationalis.com. But I wish to respond here also. Very glad you have taken an interest and have specifically inquired about/challenged some of the ideas.

It is true that for any of the individual positive components of the REUEP (JCA), there can be situations in which other negative components (PSDED) will be promoted also. This means that some ethical questions will be very difficult to answer, and even impossible to answer with a sense of conviction or certainty. That is the nature of our human existence. But there are many, many circumstances in which it will be fairly clear whether contemplated action is consistent with the REUEP or not. If we eliminated all of them our lives would be drastically different. If you are looking to Humanianity for a set of rules that will make the answers to all ethical questions rather clear and certain, you are not going to find Humanianity to be feasible. In the book on Humanianity, I express my opinions. Remember, those are not the creed of Humanianity (which has no creed, at least beyond the REUEP), but simply the opinions of one Humanian.

I have just recently started to re-acquaint myself with this board, and it is taking some time. I don't think that it is the easiest board to use, but it is the one I chose long ago. It is probably difficult to use because of the great amount of capability inherent in it, and I hope to master it soon. I plan to make it a place for extensive discussion of beliefs proposed for the Belief Manual. Your questions in your other post are excellent. I'm sorry it has taken me so long to begin to respond. I'm not likely to be able to do much before the weekend.

BTW, I hope you have indeed read the HOME page of humanianity.com, and will explore the BELIEF MANUAL, which is at its very beginning and may have some bugs in it. Please let me know of any improvements that come to mind.

Bill

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