Have you ever noticed how intuitive mean people are? Mean people shouldn’t be able to “get you” as easily as they do. Somehow the meanest of meanies always know what barb to throw at you.
For those of you who are less fanatical than I am, Harry Potter 7, Part 2 came out a few weeks ago. Due to a needed review of all the story-line details for my husband and because I just thought it was fun, we listened to ALL of the books on CD in the months leading up to this last and final movie. One scene in the last book particularly struck me. (For those of you who aren’t Harry Potter fans, hang on… I still think this is worth thinking about, even if you have no idea about House Elves, Horcruxes, or Hallows.)
A piece of Voldemort (a.k.a. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named) has been incapsulted in an object that Harry Potter has set out to destroy, aided by his best friends – Ron and Hermione. At this particular moment in the book, Ron is in charge of destroying this one piece of wretched soul, but it acts out in an attempt to protect and preserve itself. It speaks to Ron:
“I have seen your dreams, Ronald Weasley, and I have seen your fears. All you desire is possible, but all that you dread is also possible… Least loved, always, by the mother who craved a daughter… Least loved now, by the girl who prefers your friend…Second best, always, eternally overshadowed…”
This mean soul knew what areas to strike at, where Ron’s fears made him most vulnerable. Intuitively, it/he know how to be meanest to his victim.
In elementary and middle school, I was home schooled. At one point around 6th grade or so, I made a pretty fancy science project and presented it at the Austin home schooler science fair. It was about fungus… it was gross, but at least mildly impressive, and I got a blue ribbon. All of the blue ribbon winners advanced on to the city-wide science fair with the blue ribbon winners from all the public schools. We all gathered in this huge conference center, all the parents were locked out in the lobby, and we all waited for a couple of hours while the judges visited people popcorn style, talking to us seemingly randomly about our projects. I vividly remember that the small boy to my left had the most impressive looking science fair project ever known to man. I felt out of my league immediately. And the guy on my right was the cutest guy I had ever been within 5 feet of (or at least, it felt that way at the time). Again, out of my league.
The cute guy, however, was pretty friendly and, and struck up a conversation during our (for me) agonizing wait to be judged. I have no idea what we talked about. I was just glad not to be the only one in the entire giant hall that no one talked to and no one knew. One girl from the same school/class as the cute boy boldly stepped away from her project, made her way through the maze of tri-folds and folding tables, and visited said cute boy. As soon as she appeared, I disappeared into the book I had brought with me, though I mildly admired her audacious flirting from my peripheral hearing and vision. I was genuinely reading, however, when suddenly she turned to me and asked, “Have you ever thought of shaving your head?” I hadn’t tracked their conversation and I figured she was trying to make some point to him, so I answered honestly: “No.” Her response stunned and stung me, “Well you should. It would match your face.”
Whaaaaaaaaat!?!? In the moment, I couldn’t even process the fact that this didn’t make sense. All I could feel was that I was so insecure, so lonely, and this girl point blank turned to a complete stranger and hurled an insult at me. (Trust me – it was not intended as a joke. If you had seen the snarl on this girl’s lips, you would have known. She meant it.) Later, I rationalized that she probably had a crush on the cute boy and was angry to see me talking with him when she walked up. But even so, what threat was I to her? I feel like she intuitively knew that I was scared, unsure, and that I would do nothing in return while she “fatally wounded” me.
I turned back to my book and tried to hold back the tears. A little while later… the judges walked up.
I talked about my apples and their fungus, the procession of it’s growth, the remarkable protection that the skin of an apple provides… yadah-yadah-yahdah. I felt it went pretty well. I sighed with relief when it was over. Then the smart guy struck up a conversation. We talked, he seemed nice, I was relieved not to have to look in the direction of the cute guy or his female body guard. Then he commented on my presentation, “You broke the cardinal rule.” (Yes, he was smart enough to either imitate knowing about or actually know about cardinal rules in 6th grade.) “What? What did I do?” I asked confused. What rule did my rule-following-self not know about and totally dishonor in my talk about fungi? “You said, ‘I don’t know.'” I must have stared blankly. He continued, “You always find a way to only talk about what you do know. Or say you could hypothesize about that, but what your project really proved was THIS.” I thought back. I had answered one of their questions with “I don’t know.” Did this spell catastrophe? Not that I had expected to place with this many kids… although the thought of being invited to the state-wide competition had definitely crossed my mind, it wasn’t in a “I think it’s possible” kind of way.
When my mom was finally let into the hall, I’m sure I seemed off. I felt completely deflated. But before I knew it, it was time to go into the auditorium for the announcement of the winners. I won 5th place in the “Biology” group. When I walked up to the stage to receive my medal, cute boy and his body guard were sitting on the front row. Cute guy waved at me. I’m sure she was livid, but I didn’t look at her. It turned out that Never-Say-I-Don’t-Know guy got first place out of the entire competition and got an automatic ticket to nationals. I didn’t feel quite so bad about feeling intimidated by him after that…
But still. I’m now 26 years old, and what two random strangers said to me in grade school one random day has stuck with me. Later that night, I was most concerned with the girl’s comments. I cried to my mom. I imagined witty, harsh quips back to her, I punched my pillow remembering my demure tears… I was much more hurt by her than him at the time, but looking back, I think I was much more impacted long term by what Smart Guy said to me… I have a fear of not knowing what I’m doing, of looking like a fool, of failing. Not just because of him, but I do sometimes feel as if I can’t say, “I don’t know.” (Just ask my husband… much of the time I’ll fight to the bitter end before saying I don’t know, or I was wrong, or I’m sorry.)
I wonder why meanness comes so intuitively while kindness is such hard work. I think that this is a mark against the “people are naturally good” theory. Whether you’re fictional He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named or a real life 6th grade girl, why is it so easy to pick up on people’s soft spots and exploit them? Why can’t we see each other’s wounds and work to heal them? Why is the world constantly working its way towards chaos? And is there anything we can do to fight it?
After Ron hesitates, but successfully kills the wretched piece of soul in the horcrux, Harry speaks:
“After you left,” he said in a low voice, grateful for the fact that Ron’s face was hidden, “she cried for a week. Probably longer, only she didn’t want me to see. There were loads of nights when we never even spoke to each other. With you gone…”
He could not finish; it was only now that Ron was here again that Harry fully realized how much his absence had cost them.
“She’s like my sister,” he went on. “I love her like a sister and I reckon she feels the same way about me. It’s always been like that. I thought you knew.“
Affirmation, love, encouragement, knowledge and understanding of the unfoundedness another’s fear – if these things are left unsaid, others experience life as if they don’t exist. We cannot make decisions or believe truth for other people. But, if you don’t tell someone their fear is irrational and without basis and the truth that you see that proves it, their fear grows and seems to become more and more rational. We are intuitive creatures. We know when and how to exploit fear. We need to learn when and how to dispell it. Don’t be mean.