It’s a question I’ve been asking a lot lately, and I hear others asking it, too, in my circle of friends, faith community, and small psychotherapy practice.
Why are we so mean? And, more importantly, how can we stop participating in the meanness?
In one hand we carry the life-giving essence that make us fully human, and in the other we hold the pain of living on an ailing planet strained under a load of bad news. We are simultaneously beauty and shadow, what Pascal called "noble ruins."
Ever since reading The Road to Character, I hold David Brooks as one of the wise, prophetic voices of our day, so when a friend recently told me Brooks wrote an article in The Atlantic called, "How America Got Mean," that’s all the encouragement I needed to subscribe to The Atlantic for a year. Just to read one article. If I did the math right, it’s a penny a word.
Brooks begins by delineating the stories being told about our meanness, paraphrased here.
The technology story: Facebook made me do it.
The sociology story: I am a [self-sufficient, independent] rock, and a rock feels no pain (but causes a lot of pain).
The demography story: We’re disoriented by diversity.
The economy story: Resource disparities are making us crazy.
Appreciative of each of these stories, Brooks goes on to contribute his own moral formation story: “We inhabit a society in which people are no longer trained in how to treat others with kindness and consideration” (p. 70).
Collectively and individually, how can we stop being so angry and instead focus on re-forming and re-membering the moral goodness already in our hearts? Brooks notes, “healthy moral ecologies don’t just happen. They have to be seeded and tended.”
Brooks mentions Ted Lasso. Of course he does. Lasso is the iconic but fictional coach who inspires us all to be better.
What if I paid as much attention to seeding and tending the moral formation of my own soul as to the ways I have been misunderstood, misrepresented, and mistreated? This will be my personal adventure for the next who-knows-how-many months, and I invite you along.
You’re reading the first of twelve blog posts.
Blog Post 1: Introduction (think of the little red pin on a map, because You Are Here)
Blog Posts 2-11: Ten Challenges (for becoming our best selves)
Blog Post 12: Conclusion (without the tidy bow)
Some of my challenges will be directly inspired by Brooks because, hey, I paid $79 to read that article, and he has good ideas. Others will emerge out my 40 years as a social scientist and 38 years as a clinical psychologist. When I saw Brooks’s list of stories (technology, sociology, demography, and economy), I wished he’d included a psychological story. Though I could never match Brooks’s social insight or intellectual acumen, perhaps I can add a bit of psychology to the conversation.
My ten challenges will not be ivory towerish. They will emerge from personal need and soulful reflection as much as from science or psychological theory. I’ll not be preaching here, just pressing myself to move toward that better version of Mark I have been eyeing for a long time. The blog posts are my invitation to any who might want to join me on this journey.
Here's a preview of what comes next...
Challenge #1: The red squiggly line shows up under the word vengeless because we don’t use the word enough to know it, but vengelessness is a real thing. How can we remove that red squiggly line in our hearts and become vengeless toward those who have caused us pain?
Let’s work to be the best versions of ourselves, to be less mean to people and as a people, to let grace swirl within and around us.