Now and then, we can be miserable bastards.
We have decent reasons. Many of us get bullied or live with the memory of old bullies riding on us everywhere we go. When we were small and developing, we learned that people can’t be trusted. There’s one thing I want to point out in this article:
We were wrong.
People are generally good, but the more we’re taught not to see good deeds, the less we see them.
I plan to show you why there’s no need for us to be miserable bastards, even when it feels necessary.
Bullied or not, there’s probably been a time when you were treated as less important than others. We’re vulnerable to Less Than treatment. So many of us achieve things later than the people around us, because we have extra steps. And that’s okay. Still, people underestimate us. Sometimes it’s a weakness, sometimes a strength, but we inevitably seem like we learn slower, or are weaker or dumber than others.
And when you’re treated as Less Than, it feels like you’re an inferior species.
We equally deserve to be here and we deserve all the nice things that others get. Still, when we’re not invited to things, not given important information or fall out of the loop, our brains don’t quite get the message.
So of course some of us are miserable. Being isolated does that.
This leads so many of us to misanthropy, or worse, becoming Underground Men.
There’s a novel called Notes From Underground by the Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky. He wrote The Brothers Karamazov.
His main character considers himself an ‘Underground Man’, someone who lives separate from mainstream society. People don’t hear from him, they don’t know what he’s up to. The more time he spends paying no attention to the outside world, the more he thinks he’s better than everyone. And the worse he gets at life.
He meets up with some old friends, but his superiority complex takes over. He insults them and ruins his old friendships.
The worse an Underground Man gets at life, the better he thinks he is at life. The less he thinks he needs others, the more he needs them. For more on this phenomenon, look up the Dunning-Kruger effect.
So, what’s the solution?
There are a few. They may not all apply to you today, but hopefully one or more prove themselves useful.
You may find out you weren’t always being bullied.
In-jokes are popular among friends because they bind people together. They’re secrets that make the people who hear them feel good. For this reason, there are a lot of crass in-jokes that sound hurtful but are actually the biggest compliment a person can give.
Here’s an example. On certain finance forums, when a person announces they’re rich now and can retire, users answer “Fuck you!”
This is their ultimate congratulation. It’s funny because they’re pretending to be jealous. Some really are jealous, and when people accept all the humour and catharsis in those Fuck Yous, they realise it’s okay to feel jealous. There’s a deep acceptance happening.
This is why so many people in Australia call good friends ‘Cunt’. It can be an expression of friendly love, especially in areas where a person doesn’t need a perfect reputation to succeed in life (like areas with a lot of farmers). In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell calls these societies non-honour-based societies. Not nearly enough has been written about them, considering most of us live in one.
Some friend groups make fun of each other to show that they’re all welcome.
Crass in-jokes are an advanced social skill that have a little potential to hurt people, and a lot of potential to feel good. This may have happened to you.
What’s more, if you assume that someone is being nice to you in a purely social setting (don’t try this with a mugger), you will naturally be nice back to them. And then, no matter how they meant to treat you, they will now be tempted to be nice back.
It’s called mirroring and it’s human nature.
If you assume people were not mean to you but were accepting you, isn’t that soothing? You could be right. You could have been wrong about the bullying. This state of mind is much healthier.
However you look at it, a person will aim a joke at you to
- Feel amused, or
- To cover for their own insecurity.
When someone insecure attacks you, they’re saying you’re better than them. You’re a threat because you look superior. Creatures only attack their own tribe if there are threats around — any other motive is a waste of energy, and of social status when they make enemies. They’re scared of you.
When people bring us into their jokes and make us a part of their amusement, and they’re not doing it because of their own inferiority, they’re including us. They’re welcoming us. In every scenario, it’s okay to be here.
Even for a couple minutes each day, tell yourself that it’s always been okay to take up space and enjoy your oxygen. People will find you more pleasant, and most of them will want to be pleasant back. You may even feel better.