Don’t Be Mean is about not being nasty about other people, either to their face or behind their back. Words can hurt just as much as sticks and stones.
The original lojong slogan is: Don’t malign others, which is a noble idea, but not easy to live up to. It’s no good pretending to be nice on the surface and thinking badly of others in the privacy of your own head. Maligning others when their backs are turned will poison your relationships with everybody.
In the end, your attitude towards others will reflect back onto you. Being two-faced will erode trust and create a bad atmosphere, and nobody will want to be friends with someone who is always being mean.
This slogan asks you to look more deeply into the intentions behind your words. Even with the best intentions you might upset someone by accidentally saying the wrong thing. Whether it’s deliberate or not, you don’t know what’s going on inside others’ heads or what difficulties they’re struggling with, so don’t be too quick to judge.
When you’re tempted to snipe, remember meanness is contagious and what goes around comes around.
Apply this slogan to your writing practice when you’re asked to give feedback on another writer’s work, either in person or online.
Check your motives. Do you really want to help your fellow writers to improve their work, or are you looking for a way to feel superior? Perhaps you want to present yourself as an expert or as more experienced, and so deserving of respect or power.
Writing groups are one of the worst places for this kind of power play. Many are supportive and genuinely helpful, but some groups harbour bruised egos and resentful hacks looking for an excuse to indulge in malicious gossip and precisely targeted sarcasm. It might not be overt. Devastating criticism can be delivered with a smile and a knife to the back.
This slogan reminds you to think before you open your mouth and to consider the consequences of your words, as well as the intent behind them.
Exercise: Write a story about a mean person that reveals the hidden reasons for their bad attitude.
More in the book – available now: Free Your Pen: Mind Training for Writers