It did not start with the current, constant social media bantering. Discrediting other people has existed in our culture for as long as I have lived. Here are three insights as to why.
LOGIC REQUIRES CATEGORIZATION
From our earliest years we have played games where we sort out what’s different, what’s the same, what belongs, what does not belong, find the things that match. These were (and continue to be) little puzzle books, pre-readers, and children’s magazines. It was and is thought to be the foundational activity for preparing youngsters to read.
But have we thought about the behavioral impact these activities instill into our little child’s psyche? What is on the paper, can also be played in real life. Have you ever heard kids play question games, like who’s your favorite teacher so far? Who do you like best, your brother or me? Who runs the fastest, Tommy or Susie? Who do you like in our classroom? Who do you think is smart? Who do you think is stupid? …and so it begins.
It is obvious why categories play an intrinsic part in the structure and order to our lives: to sort, pick and choose, move forward with new entries into categories. If we are not conscious of the impact of our choices, however, we can stagnate into an imploding rather than expanding lifestyle.
Have you ever started a new job and given a tour of the office? As you are introduced to your future co-workers, are you somewhat surprised to be taken aside to hear negative tidbits about the person you are going to meet? It usually goes something like this, “Betty is our accountant, She is a real rule keeper, so be careful of her. She takes no prisoners!” (…And then a knowing laugh). Betty’s reputation begins before every meeting her in person. Or, “Now let’s meet Tom, he’s just broke up with his girlfriend. I think it was because she thought he was cheating on her.” Tom will be categorized by you with this information.
It just seems we have a tolerance for putting things, places and, yes, people in categories, even items to discredit another. Why would we do this? Well, this leads to my next observation..
WE CARRY AN URGE TO BE IN THE KNOW.
We like to feel important. In first grade, the teacher would say to the class, “Look how Barbara is sitting up straight with her hands folded on her desk. This is the perfect way to be attentive in our class.” I would feel so important … and smart. It only took sitting up straight and putting my hands together to get her attention. School is going to be easy! My second grade teacher seemed to be on the same track, because from time to time she liked to point out the fact that I was a great student who knew how to sit up straight. But by the third grade, I was totally ignored and the students who knew answers were pointed out as the perfect ones! I lost the spotlight, but I did not lose my graving for the spotlight!
I changed my direction because I liked being the center of praise. I liked being in the know. And, sometimes being in the know is demonstrated by talking about other people. We talk about people like we are the ones who have a special inside track. We feel more importance when we can talk about people. As we speak, though, we begin to notice speaking in with negative connotations receives a bigger audience.
NEGATIVE TALK GETS THE MOST ATTENTION
There used to be a thing called newspapers. (…they still quietly thrive but you might not be aware of them.) And, within our San Francisco Chronicle or Berkeley Gazette, (or both) was found Ann Landers. She answered and offered solutions for her readers. In high school I wrote to her and asked why news articles were always focused on death, murder, robberies, all bad things that happened to people If we teens weren’t allowed to see them in movies, why did we have news stories on television. I asked her to please write about this and offer suggestions for writing more uplifting and inspiring news that I was sure was being actuated on the same day as current news horror stories. She sent a letter back to me. It was so many years ago, but I remember being delighted to receive a letter from Ann Landers. In a nutshell, I interpreted the letter as an explanation: unfortunately people like to read about what surprises them.
So, negative talk is what gets our attention, isn’t it. I may be thought of as a more powerful person if I can talk definitively in negative terms. I really know this person and I can protect you from them. I am the patriarch! I am the matriarch!
It may be the old stand on the heads of others to get ahead syndrome. Yet, when I tell you that this person is an idiot, or psychopath, or lazy, or ugly, or a number of other senseless things, I project my disavowed traits and actually am talking about myself.
It will take some time to change the culture of discrediting people, if in fact, we even wish to change. It’s something to consider. The only real power we have is to locate and accept ourselves. …all that is within. It may be time for a change..
I am reminded of early writings by Gary Zukav:
Authentic power requires that we choose:
* Harmony over Discord
* Cooperation over Competition
* Sharing over Hoarding
* Reverence for life over Exploitation
Addendum: There is lots to say about this topic. I’ll save my thoughts for another day, but I’d love to hear what you think. Smile whenever you think of it!