People have been asking what I mean by mean, meaning what does mean mean.
I’m sorry. I couldn’t resist writing that sentence. OK, it's out of my system. So, really… what does mean mean? What does it mean to say Don't Be Mean?
I’ve been telling people for nearly four years that the only rule in life they need to follow is don’t be mean. It's not even a rule. “Don’t be mean” is a value, meaning it's something you can apply to every choice you’ll ever make for the rest of your life. If one rule can cover that much ground, I think that the rule deserves to be called a value.
So, we’ve got a value of don’t be mean.
So what, because what does mean mean?
And what did I mean when I wrote the damned thing in the book?
And why didn't I simply write, be kind. I almost did.
But people have ruined that word by calling for a kinder, gentler nation and then effecting a nation that's very close to the opposite. Another example: someone could consider truthfully that they're being kind to you when they stop you from being a homosexual… because then you won’t go to hell. It's become too easy for people to convince themselves that they’re not being mean when they simply call themselves kind. Nope, the word kind can be stretched way out of shape. So, be kind couldn’t be the rule.
But… don’t be mean? Aw man, I thought I’d nailed it. I thought everyone knows what mean is, right? Mean old man, mean girls, and hey… you’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch. But those are all pop culture constructs, not real meanings. And that brings us to the dictionary. You’d think the dictionary would provide some definitive clarity. Nonsense. Go ahead, look up mean in the dictionary. Mean can mean so many mean things, it’ll make you mean dizzy.
Failing to come up with a simple, satisfactory answer to the question, what does mean mean, I did what I always do when I don't know something… I asked my twibe on Twitter.
RT @katebornstein: Twibe: re "Don't b mean," peeps hv bn asking what mean means. Thoughts? Must it include intent to harm/steal/enslave? Hashtag #mean pse.
Here, click to read through this sampling of responses from my twibe. See what you come up with.
Pondering many points of view on the word mean helped me realize that mean is undeniably subjective. Nonetheless, we know what it feels like when someone is mean to us. Mean is a word we all learned as kids. It’s a word that holds a great deal of emotional power and history.
So, I don’t think it matters what mean really means in order to embrace the value, don’t be mean. I’m thinking now that it's enough that we care enough to ask the question, what does mean mean. I don't know for sure, but I'm willing to bet that mean is something we spend our entire life learning what it is… if for no other reason than to stop ourselves from being mean.So, until it runs out of juice, I’m going to stick with using the word mean. And I'll say it once again:
Please… do whatever it takes to make your life more worth living. Anything. Anything, my darling. Only one rule to follow—only one value you need to embrace—to make that blanket permission work: Don’t be mean.
Yep that works just fine for me. And it'll work for you. I promise. There's no need to fry your brains, trying to figure out mean. It's enough if we all just try not to be mean. Eventually we’ll all get a better handle on it. And I think that’s about as much as anyone can ask for.
Now… go, play nice with your friends.