As you proceed down the spiritual path some things become clearer to you. One of the great understandings you come to is that most of what people do or say to you is not personal; they’re not out to get you, they’re just acting on the conditioning and mind states in which they’re trapped. You can depersonalize a lot of the interactions you have, and suddenly things get less painful. The guy who is a jerk to you is acting out of his own pain, and you can bring compassion to the moment rather than feel bad or mad.
It’s so freeing, and it opens up the world in a whole new way. When you don’t have to take everything so damn personally a lot of negative moments can just pass by you like clouds passing by the sun. You don’t have to get hung up on them, and they only slightly darken your day for a second.
But the spiritual path ain’t that straight and narrow, and if you’re like me there’s nothing your fucked up conditioned mind can’t weaponize. And so this freeing understanding that everyone around you is wounded, is doing the best they can in that moment even if their best isn’t that good, that they are all just behaving in the ways that their genes and their parents and the world and their experiences taught them to behave, that they think they’re doing or saying what they need to do or say to protect themselves… it becomes a whole new way to be shitty to people.
I call this phenomenon “Mean Jesus.” It’s so easy to become Mean Jesus, and for me it’s so tempting. There’s a guy who posts nasty comments on this blog a lot, and he keeps coming back even after I ban him. I’ve Mean Jesus-ed this guy (I’ve also just plain been shitty to this guy, to be fair), and in the moment it felt so good. It felt like winning. But what I’ve learned is that when I feel like I’m winning at someone else’s expense I have truly and fully screwed up.
How do you Mean Jesus? It’s easy, really. You take that understanding that everyone is hurting, that everyone is deluded and confused, and you use it in the most condescending way possible.
“My son, you are not well,” Mean Jesus says, summoning his most Christ-y language. “You are sick and suffering, and I understand that. The way you’re behaving? You don’t know any better! You need help, and perhaps I, as a wise and advanced being, can give that help to you.”
It’s weaponized pity. In Buddhism we talk about how all of the Brahma-viharas, aka the divine abodes, aka the most positive states you can cultivate, have ‘near enemies.’ The far enemies of these states are easy to spot – the far enemy of compassion is cruelty, for instance – but the near enemies are trickier. They can often look like the positive state, and that makes them quite insidious.
So here Mean Jesus is all about utilizing pity, the near enemy of compassion. Compassion is sharing the feelings of others – you empathize with them, you understand their pain – and it brings you closer to them. But pity distances you from them; you are apart from them and you feel bad for them, not bad with them. It’s a subtle distinction at first, but it becomes clearer the more you notice it arising. You feel pity for the homeless man you step over on the way to work, but you feel compassion for your injured child.
Mean Jesus is an exciting state, though, because it doesn’t just utilize the near enemy of compassion, it also utilizes the far enemy. You are being pitying in a way that is subtly, quietly, calculated to be cruel. You are othering the person, you are diminishing them, and you are kind of hoping that it makes them feel bad.
“You are bad and should feel bad,” Mean Jesus says. “And that makes me feel bad for you.”
Mean Jesus may reach out a helping hand, but in a way designed to make the other person recognize what a shit they are. “You seem angry,” Mean Jesus tells them. “Let me direct you to an anger management therapist.”
Mean Jesus has a lot in common with concern trolling, except that Mean Jesus is very often fooling himself as well. He’s saying to himself “Look at me, being magnanimous and offering this stupid, ignorant piece of shit some help that he is too fucking wounded and deluded to see he needs.” It’s grotesque, and it’s far off the spiritual path. Mean Jesus is for sure not helping anyone else, and he’s definitely harming himself. He’s getting farther from compassion all the time.
Being Mean Jesus is really tempting. We’ve all seen religious people do it, and we can see righteous social justice people do it online every day. It’s tempting to go back to Jesus in the Temple with the moneychangers and use that scenario as a way to rationalize your cruel pity; a lot of people who are total assholes like to bring that part of the Jesus story up to explain away their own assholery (I know that it was my favorite Jesus story for a long, long time).
So what do you do when someone is a jerk or difficult? If you don’t offer them the benefit of your massive and glowing wisdom, what should you do in these situations? The answer is simply to do nothing. Smile and nod. I’ve read that you should thank these people for their opinions, but I can’t do that because I’ll turn that shit into passive-aggressive nastiness as well. Don’t engage at all, or disengage in the politest way possible. Ignore the mean comment. There’s nothing to be gained by confronting it in the moment, at least not if you have the Mean Jesus gene.
Sometimes you just gotta eat a little shit, and it’s okay. I know that’s not entirely popular in today’s self-help/self-esteem moment, but sometimes the answer is to deal with a thing you don’t like and deal with it gracefully and with acceptance. This gets close to a not-great state of mind, but I like to remember how I react when a street person screams something at me – I don’t feel the need to argue with him, I don’t feel the need to confront him, and I don’t take the words personally. I just walk past as quickly as I can.
That might sound cold, but I do think that in some situations the best thing to do is to just pull away and move on. It’s okay – you don’t have to save everybody, and the urge to save everybody is what fuels Mean Jesus. For me the answer is to simply stop offering help that wasn’t asked for, and to be totally open to people requesting help. If someone is a prick in the comments I will quietly and quickly ban them and move along, but I won’t post a link to recovery or a mental health service, even if I honestly think they could use it. But if this same person contacted me and asked for help, or a recommendation, I will quickly and happily be of service.
That’s the key. It’s removing my sense of self from the whole scenario. I’m not here to save anybody, but I am here to help them if they ask for it. That’s how I can keep Mean Jesus in check, at least one day at a time.