scary people

Mean people who aren't mean all the time

Mean people aren’t necessarily mean all the time. Mean people aren’t necessarily mean to everyone.

I think most people who are mean are nice to at least some people at least some of the time. It can be hard to understand that they’re mean to other people in ways that matter if you don’t see it.

One example of this is that many men who are awful to women treat other men well. Some men don’t know this. They often assume that a man who treats them and their male friend group well is basically well-intentioned — and may have a lot of trouble understanding why their female friends think he’s dangerously creepy.

That happens in a lot of contexts. Some of which have to do with socially marginalized groups like gender or race or trans status or disability or religion or any number of other things. Some of them aren’t like that.

Sometimes it’s about in groups and outgroups in ways that aren’t otherwise connected to privilege.

For instance:

  • Jesse is mean, but not mean to everyone.
  • Jesse is nice to people who they like
  • Mostly, Jesse likes people who admire them and don’t contradict them about anything important
  • Jesse is mean to people outside their circle
  • People who are in Jesse’s circle and really admire Jesse might have trouble believing that they’re ever mean to anyone else
  • On the logic that “Jesse has never said anything like that to me; I can’t believe Jesse would say that”. Or something else like that.

It’s not unreasonable to base some of your opinions on what’s probably going on in a conflict on your personal experiences with someone. To an extent, it’s *necessary* to do it that way, because you can’t find out what’s going on by disregarding what you know. But it’s also important to remember that the way someone treats you might not be representative.

For instance:

  • If you’ve never contradicted someone, you might not know how they handle being contradicted
  • If someone’s never been mad at you or someone you respect, you might not know much about how they treat people when they are angry
  • Everyone gets into conflicts.
  • Everyone gets contradicted.
  • Everyone is wrong sometimes.
  • Nobody handles this perfectly. Some people handle this more-or-less reasonably; some people handle it horribly.
  • If you haven’t seen what someone does in those situations, it’s hard to know whether their reactions are reasonable

tl;dr It’s easy to misunderstand conflicts by assuming that people who have always been nice to you are always reasonable with everyone. It’s important to consider what you know about someone *and* to consider the possibility that your experiences with someone may not be representative.

Meanness can conceal bad arguments

Sometimes people use being mean to sound right. (Intentionally or unintentionally).

When you’re afraid of someone, it can feel dangerous to disagree with them. (Sometimes the danger is real, sometimes it isn’t.)

If you’re afraid to disagree with someone, you might find yourself coming up with a lot of arguments in favor of their position, and feeling like they’re more credible than they really are. 

It can be worth noticing you’re afraid, and thinking through whether you’d still agree with them if you weren’t afraid.

For instance:

  • Susan (in a mean, not-quite yelling tone): Implausible hounds are real! I can’t believe anyone thinks they’re not. I’m glad all my friends get it.
  • Susan’s friend Bob isn’t sure whether or not implausible hounds exist, but doesn’t want to get yelled at, doesn’t want Susan to stop respecting him, and doesn’t want to be a bad friend
  • So Bob might ignore his doubts about implausible hounds and try to convince himself that they definitely exist by ignoring all the arguments he can think of that implausible hounds are implausible.

This can happen subconsciously, so it’s worth trying to notice when it’s happening:

  • If someone is saying something forcefully
  • And you find yourself agreeing 
  • And you feel really bad about agreeing
  • Or you feel really bad about doubting them
  • It’s worth asking yourself whether you’re agreeing out of fear, and whether you’d agree with them if you weren’t afraid

This can happen for other reasons; sometimes learning a new thing can feel bad (eg: if you realize you were being a jerk). It’s worth considering whether you’re agreeing out of fear, and also worth being open to the possibility that you’re agreeing because you’re actually convinced. It always takes thought to figure out which it is. 

tl;dr When people are mean or scary; it can make their arguments seem better than they really are. If you’re afraid, feeling awful after agreeing with something, or feeling awful about doubting someone, it’s a sign that you might be agreeing out of fear rather than having been persuaded. When that happens, it’s worth pausing to think through things and figure out whether you’re agreeing out of fear, or agreeing because you’ve actually been persuaded.