Opinion: Is it really that difficult to be pleasant?

In recent days I’ve encountered several instances online where people seemingly went out of their way to be rude, smarmy jerks towards others who had done nothing to deserve such behavior. I shouldn’t be shocked by this, of course – anyone who’s spent any time online has seen such comments consistently appear on forums, facebook, twitter, news articles, entertainment sites, etc. Yet each time I see such behavior, I’m taken aback. I simply can’t understand the hostility, the smugness, the apparent pleasure derived from making others feel small.

Are there that many desperately unhappy people in the world? I’m assuming that’s the reason for this type of behavior – unhappiness and self-loathing which causes some to say unkind things to or about others in a pathetic attempt to feel better about their own miserable existence. Or could it be that in this increasingly technologically dependent world, we’re becoming more isolated, and therefore less sensitive and respectful towards the feelings of others? Are computers, tablets and smartphones creating a generation of borderline sociopaths? I know that’s what some believe, yet having lived for several years before the internet age, I can attest to the fact that there were plenty of jerks around long before internet forums existed.

I’m not certain what bothers me more – the genuinely creepy lack of empathy displayed by those who derive enjoyment from the misery of others, or the cowardice of using the anonymity the internet provides to act in cruel ways. I doubt very seriously that most of these types of people would ever speak in public the way they do online. If so, I hope they have quality medical coverage, because they must be getting punched in the nose… a lot.

People frequently speak about the “coarsening” of society, and things have certainly gotten worse during my lifetime. However, society has always been rather coarse. I think one of the biggest falsehoods ever foisted upon humankind is that most people are basically good. In my experience, most people – not all, but many – are basically amoral, jealous, petty, hypocritical and selfish – they act in ways that benefit themselves, with no concern for the consequences of their actions… they dismiss, or snicker at your misfortune, while wailing and whining about their own… they view the successes of others with bitter envy, and relish the moments when the successful fall… and they would step on their own mother’s neck to get to the last crumb of bread.

There is a darkness that exists in each of us, and far too many seem either unable, or unwilling to contain it. More so today than ever before. Where we’re heading as a society, I don’t know, but I don’t think it’s anywhere good. Worse still, it’s looking increasingly as if this is a road with no exit. It’s only through the grace of good, true friends that I’m able to keep the faith… still, some days are more difficult than others.

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