Humans experience an array of emotions, ranging from elated to depressed, apathetic to anxious, excited to afraid. There is no linear spectrum as emotions are spread out and can get easily muddled. Emotions drive people to action, whether that be to kiss someone, to give to a charity, open a door, or even bully or kill someone. But what causes people to act out on their feelings, especially those that are harmful? What is it that makes it so hard for self control or constructive behavior? Why are we so mean?
Humans are social beings. We thrive on positive relationships and cooperation. Nathan A Heflick Ph.D. describes the social identity theory that says “people have a need to feel unique from others in positive ways…we tend to view our in-groups more favorably than out-groups”. This leads to the degrading of others not part of our group. We degrade to feel better about ourselves. This is seen in the social comparison theory: people naturally make comparisons to other people.We hate feeling bad about ourselves and so are prone to making downward comparisons which allow us to look down on others.
This creates a terrible cycle of low self esteem, as those who have now been looked down upon must find a group to carry the brunt of their lack of self esteem. This threatened self esteem drives a lot of aggression, which can be seen in bullies. It is a feeling of inadequacy that drives this meanness, as humans tend to always look for ways to try to make themselves feel better, even if that’s at the cost of a peer. As Heflick says, “Insecurity over ourselves drives much of the cruelty in the world”.
. Our world is hypercompetitive and many of us will do anything to rise to the top. Could this have something to do with the cruelty we see in our everyday life? I think so. Don’t get me wrong, being competitive is good. It drives you and pushes you to strive for bigger and better things; however, it can be taken too far. Melanie Greenberg Ph.D. explains that “some competitive people may be pathologically narcissistic and self-centred, not seeing you as a separate human being, but more as a reflection or extension of themselves, a source of admiration for their accomplishments, a potential threat to their own success, or as an object to use or manipulate in order to meet their own needs or increase their resources”.
This cruelty stems from inside the person. It comes from a feeling of insecurity and inadequacy, of needing to be dominant, on top. The next question is how do we fix this? How do we boost our self esteem and work together rather than work to tear each other down? How can we create a world wide community of compassion and cut out this unwanted cruelty?
Photo by Run Jane Fox