Human Viciousness is Mostly Fear
We can disarm it with kindness
When someone acts out, we often perceive their behavior as a threat without posing to consider what prompted it.
In an individualistic culture, many of us default to aggressive mode when our interlocutor disagrees with us. Thus, questions and feedback become personal attacks instead of opportunities for dialogue and debate.
And yet, when a fellow human decides to pay attention to us, don’t we owe them the courtesy of at least acknowledging what they have to say?
Because I am curious to a fault, I always listen on the off-chance I might learn something, be it only about how I come across. The more difficult my interlocutor, the more intrigued I get because there has to be a reason why they’re acting out.
Sometimes, they’re pushing back against something I wrote; this gives me chance to improve what I do and how I do it, assuming I can understand their point.
I don’t always succeed but I do try because attention is a gift to which I do not feel entitled to in the least just by virtue of thinking out loud on the internet. I strive to remain polite, exacting, and dispassionate in my use of language even if my interlocutor is insulting, angry, or both. In short, I channel my inner Michelle.
This alone has led to surprising and mutually enriching exchanges on many occasions, some of which even turned into fast friendships.
Anyone beset with a bad case of imposter syndrome is seldom self-aware enough to measure the impact their words have on others.
Sometimes, our self-perception is so steeped in delusions of grandeur we cannot comprehend why our peers see us as boastful and greedy. Conversely, the aura of quiet competence we project may be accidental, the by-product of not daring to take a stand.
Being a contrarian is never safe but then again neither is complacency, a scourge that belies a crippling and increasingly endemic absence of curiosity. On a political level, this attitude is as hazardous as it is irresponsible but it is what the “cult of me” demands so this is what many of abide by.
If it doesn’t concern us, why should we care?
Cue persecution and genocides taking place in plain sight while we carry on with our little lives. Evil becomes normalized and banal, as German political theorist and philosopher Hannah Arendt argued.
When we relinquish our duty of care toward one another, we unwittingly empower humanity’s worst traits.
We humans are emotional creatures at heart but we yet have to learn how to parse what our instinct is telling us.
When we are repressed and terrified of judgment we don’t trust ourselves to express anything at all. Instead of accepting the entire spectrum of emotions as part of the human condition, we are ashamed of how unbecoming some of our thoughts are; we keep smiling and acquiescing benignly while a storm rages within.
We dare not rise up, we dare not dissent; we remain as clueless about others as we are about ourselves.
Too often, we forget there is great sincerity in anger; awkward though it may be, deep down it is nothing more than a desperate need for validation. All humans want to be seen, heard, and acknowledged; an angry human is no exception.
How we process emotions is deeply cultural. If you come from a culture where bluntness is either the norm or prized, you’ll have an easier time dealing with extremes like anger or distress. What’s more, you likely won’t know what susceptibility is, at least not from personal experience.
When you are comfortable in your own skin, anger is a message struggling to get out rather than someone out to get you.
But engaging in instant confrontation means responding to violence with violence. This is how misunderstandings and disagreements that could easily have been defused with dialogue escalate and end in deadlock.
Ignoring someone, meanwhile, is a power play designed to assert moral superiority over them, a practice very popular online. Ask an inconvenient question or push back and you might get blocked, reported, or even banned from some social media platforms.
It is often when it is most necessary that communication becomes impossible: Our enormous egos get in the way.
Kindness and gentleness are always the answer.
However, we cannot practice either as long as we haven’t learned to set our ego aside.
Gentleness is clandestine and kindness is humility in action; neither doubles up as a personal branding exercise. Instead, they honor our shared humanness by trying to build bridges toward those who are not us.
Focusing on common denominators rather than differences always helps get a conversation going. Please don’t let anger deter you; with a little heart and compassion, you can likely defuse it and even uncover its root cause(s).
But when only our own feelings matter, we are quite incapable of empathy, communication breaks down, and fear takes over. We fear someone else’s anger might expose us as inadequate while the angry person fears being voiceless.
Online, this fear often leads to harassment, bullying, and the phenomenon known as “dogpiling.” Under the guise of doing others a good turn, an aggrieved party will rally their acquaintances and enlist their support. Alas, many will fail to do their due diligence before picking a side and a small disagreement will quickly blow up into an unmanageable situation.
A true friend, meanwhile, will stop and think instead of assuming; as a result, they will likely attempt mediation and conflict resolution. This alone is the first step toward eradicating echo chambers and groupthink to build a more open, more progressive, more thoughtful society.
The internet is the ideal incubator for a better world.
What have we got to lose but our fear?
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.