Don’t Be Mean? Really?

Do whatever it takes to make your life more worth living. Anything at all. It can be illegal, immoral, unethical, self-destructive… anything at all if it makes your life more worth living. There’s only one rule to follow to make that kind of blanket permission work: Don’t be mean. 

HCW_coverI’ve been telling people that for 4-5 years now, first in my book Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws—and more recently in my post for Dan Savage’s YouTube project, It Gets Better. 

Since posting it up on YouTube, I’ve received a great deal more feedback. It’s the nature of the medium. Most people don’t write back to books. But they do write back to blogs, vlogs and tweets. Many of the responses to my It Gets Better vlog have been along the lines of thank you very much, and to that I’ve been saying you’re very welcome. But there have been many questions about this notion of Don’t be mean, and that’s what I’d like to address here.

What can you do when you are mean?

Being meanAs much sense as it makes to embrace the value of don’t be mean, the bottom line is we’re going to be mean to people. 

We’re human. We have tempers. We have buttons that other people push. We have off days when we’re cranky and prickly. Sometimes, we have to deal with people we don’t like, or people who’ve been mean to us… and sometimes we act or respond meanly ourselves.

All of us—even though we know better—we’re mean. And when that happens, the very best we can do is take these 3 steps: 


1) We forgive ourselves, cuz we're just plain human. 

2) We apologize and/or make amends if we possibly can. 

3) We try to do better the next time.

By doing those three steps—over and over, every time we’re mean—we learn how to not be mean. And we’ll go for a longer stretch time before the next time we are mean. And we will be mean again, whether it’s intentional or not. The deal is we try not to be mean. Good intentions count for a lot. 

That old saying “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” is bull poop. The more good intentions we embrace, the closer we get to heaven. Never mind the inevitability of being mean later on down the road—once we’ve intended to not be mean, we get better at it. Embracing the intention to not be mean is in and of itself an act of self-betterment. 

Can you be mean to yourself?

A119 make it bleedFolks have asked if being mean to yourself counts as "being mean." 

Nope. You can be as mean to yourself as you need or want to be. Most of us are, anyway. I’m meaner to myself than anyone has ever been mean to me. 

Sometimes being mean to myself is the only thing that allows me to go on living for another couple of hours, or day or weeks. I beat up on myself. I cut. I starve myself. I self-medicate with little thought to the consequences. Those are all ways of being mean to myself, and I do them more then I’d like to. But, by trying to not be mean to other folks, I’ve slowly been learning how not to be mean to myself. 


What if just being who you are is hurtful to someone else?

Oh pleaseI’ve heard this one far too frequently: “If I come out as (fill in the blank), it will really hurt my (parents, friends, siblings, team, etc.).

Sometimes the very action or identity that can make our lives more worth living can seem hurtful to someone else. THAT’S NOT YOU BEING MEAN.

It is NEVER mean to follow the kind joy that lives in your heart. NEVER. If someone can’t handle the fact that you’re quirky by their standards, it’s on them. 

And lastly, this question has come up more and more:

What if God just plain loves you… so you're not going to Hell?

Then you are a very lovely and lucky person indeed, and your God is super!

You can keep your Get Out of Hell Free card around for laughs.

Hope this helps.

Love & respect,



  1. Today I told my students that “don’t be mean” was the most important life rule. I guess I’ll have to offer a few disclaimers tomorrow.
    I’m not sure we should really be mean to ourselves though. I’ll have to think about that one.

  2. Well, you’re right, HC. We *shouldn’t* be mean to ourselves. But since most all of us already are mean to ourselves as a way to stay alive, I just figure we may as well own it and then we can practice being less and less mean.

  3. Kate, I have been raving about your YouTube video. Mostly for the reason that you told the truth – yes,it gets better but things also get worse. So while I am in the middle of this “Kate is awesome” rant I get reminded that you did something really mean, and to someone who is super important to me. Anyway, could you apologize? Thanks.

  4. Oh, Bob. I’ve done lots of really mean things in my life, and I do apologize that I did something mean to someone who’s important to you. But you didn’t leave me any way to get in touch with you to find out what and to whom. My email is up on top of this page. Says for booking only, but you can certainly use it to email me details. xo K

  5. Well I’m mean to myself all of the time. I’m just not ready to give myself permission! See? I’m still being mean to myself!!

  6. HC…. kiss kiss, and hugs. ❤ K

  7. Now I’m all inspired and stuff, Imma have to quote you.

  8. Hello Kate. I am a 22 y.o. from Japan (but I went to high school in the US). A couple of years ago I bought your book (Hello Cruel World) from Amazon because I had been suicidal for years & I didn’t know how to cope with that anymore since we didn’t and still don’t have a lot of support for suicidal people in Japan. There are books ON suicidal people (I tried reading them but I felt like I was feeling worse) but they don’t write a book FOR suicidal people. I found your book on Amazon, I was very lucky, whenever I feel completely alone in this world I open your book & you are really like my aunt or mom (there are reasons I won’t talk to my parents anymore).
    I am sorry the last paragraph was long but my point is Can I translate your book into Japanese? The other day I did a sample on my blog (I posted an article trying to tell them “they have this book in the US!!” along with my translation/interpretation of p.90 of your book)
    Also there are several things
    -my father’s occupation IS a translator (he does Sidney Sheldon and others) and he does owns a publishing company BUT I don’t want his help in distributing and stuff.
    -I am a college drop out and not a professional translator but I occasionally translate for free (volunteering)
    I don’t need any money/job. I need something to do to stay alive. We NEED the knowledge & wisdom in your book in Japan too.
    Could you please help me, Kate?
    Thank you very much for reading.

  9. Dear Kasari, Wow. That’s a lovely idea. I had in mind the idea to get this book out in Japanese, given your culture’s unique relationship to suicide. So, let’s do it.
    First step is to contact my publisher, Seven Stories Press. Try this link:
    I’m guessing they’ll get back to you quickly. If not, get back to me by using the email address you find in the top left text box of this page. xoxo Kate

  10. Hey Auntie Kate!
    My name is Cole- I’m a student at the University of Wisconsin, and I was first introduced to you at the 2010 MBLGTACC (where, I might add, you were spectacular!). After listening to you speak alone, I have really felt inspired to include your philosophies/rules into my daily routine, with fantastic results. Much like it seems Kasari has, I feel very linked to you because of the strength you’ve given me, and have no issues viewing you as an aunt who I’ve never even met. I really feel like your entire construct is a complete logical evolution. Do what it takes to stay alive, if your God has issues with it, find a new one, if your friends have issues with it, make some different ones, just don’t be mean.
    My only issue, and the thing I have spent many an hours contemplating, is your definition of meanness. Which is to say, do you have one? I can’t say I’ve thoroughly researched and read your blogs and your book cover to cover, but if I could get it straight from the source, I’d love to know what exactly being mean entails? Is it the conscious act of doing something to hurt other people? I don’t know that most people go out of their way to injure others physically/emotionally, but I think actions can still be seen as hurtful.
    So I suppose I want to know, when I arch an eyebrow as somebody walks past, and say to myself, “God, that outfit was horrendously tacky,” is that mean, or just plain fun? Being that I seem to be having issues creating one myself, what is your definition of meanness, so I can be sure to avoid it.

  11. Hey Cole… Lotsa folks have asked me “what is mean.” Your comment was a tipping point for me, so thanks. Too big to answer here in comments. My response needed it’s own blog: “What Does Mean Mean?”

  12. I advocate unconditional understanding, as I said on the other post. That includes being understanding of yourself when you’ve not been so understanding.
    That sounds like just another task to give people, which doesn’t work when you’re desperate, so I’ll suggest you start by forgiving yourself for being mean to yourself. The rest will work itself out.
    To be understanding takes a little neutrality, a little detachment, but it’s provided me a world of calm compared to beforehand.

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