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This Is How We Should Treat Each Other All the Time

An expert on anger finds the antidote to meanness.

Francesco Carucci/Shutterstock.com
Source: Francesco Carucci/Shutterstock.com

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about how to deal with angry people. Psychology Today posted it on its Facebook page, and I made the critical error of reading the comments. While those comments were certainly not the cruelest I’ve ever seen and some were positive, many were hurtful. I was mocked and called a “wuss" because I advocated a problem-focused/work-through-the-issue type of approach rather than an aggressive one. One person wrote that the only way to deal with angry people was with a throat-strike.

I study online anger for a living so I wasn’t too surprised. I know how much cruelty there is on Facebook and Twitter. That said, I was in a bad mood after reading the comments. I don’t like being publicly mocked, shamed, or having my ideas criticized, any more than anyone else does.

Something interesting happened about an hour later, though, and my mood changed entirely. It was the day of the Bellin Run here in Green Bay, a local 10k running race—one of the biggest races in the country—and usually one of my favorite days of the year. I ran in the race that day and, about a mile in, I noticed something important about the way everyone was treating each other: In contrast to what we usually see online, on the highway, or even at the mall, they were just so supportive.

It’s not unique to the Bellin Run: At every race I’ve been to, whether as a runner or a spectator, I’ve noticed support from strangers unlike what you find anywhere else. Strangers cheer each other on. Spectators make funny, clever, and supportive signs that say things like “First rule of the zombie apocalypse: Cardio," and, "Hey, random stranger: I’m proud of you." People who live along the courses set out sprinklers to cool you off as you run by. They play music and they give you high-fives if you want them. Meanwhile, volunteers spend the morning passing out water, Gatorade, orange slices, bananas, and Vaseline, cheering you on while they do it, and cleaning up your mess once you’ve run by.

It’s not just the spectators who offer support, though; competitors do, too. We support each other along the way, as though we get that we’re trying something difficult and understand that we need each other’s help to get through it. I am a relatively slow runner, and have never been mocked for it. I’ve never been called names. I remember one race years ago when, with about a mile to go, I stopped to walk for a bit. It was hot and I was simply out of energy. Nobody yelled, "You should have trained harder!” or called me a wuss. In fact, another runner who was passing me when I started walking said, “You can do it. We’re almost there.” Theoretically, this other runner was my competition. We were running the same race, after all, but he used up precious breath at the end of a long race to give me some encouragement. He could tell I needed it, and I was thankful.

There is near-universal acknowledgement that running a race is hard work and that it is kind to support, praise, and encourage those who give it a try. But here’s the thing: Life is so much harder than a 10k. Why can’t we muster up that same level of encouragement and support for the people we run into on a daily basis? Why can’t we treat everyone, whether we’re online, on the highway, or at the mall, like they’re running a race?

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