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Why Ya Gotta Be So Mean?



“A kind man benefits himself, but a cruel man brings trouble on himself.” Proverbs 11:17 (NIV)


Some people are just plain mean. Not by accident, or a malfunctioning gene, or because it happens to be a bad day. They simply make the choice to be a combination of Cruella De Vil, Attila the Hun, and Taylor Swift’s ex-boyfriend – every day of their lives.
Now, as an admitted lifelong member of the glass-always-half-full, tomorrow-will-be-better, Duck Dynasty “happy, happy, happy” club, I have trouble figuring out why anyone would want to waste a perfectly good day by growling, snarling and snapping. Perhaps if you were a toilet paper recycler, you would have every right to be unpleasant and unkind and have a stinky attitude.
The majority of us are simply trying to use whatever talents the Lord has blessed us with while being nice…and cordial…and pleasant…But not mean people. Their talents always seem to be infected with a bad case of the nasty.
When kids at school were mean to me, my grandma would always say “Sweetie, what goes around comes around. Be patient. Meanness will be rewarded in the same way it was given.” Well, I saw it “come around.”
Let me explain. One of the requirements of my nursing school training was to volunteer in a nursing home. I found out immediately that I loved it. Oh, the wonderful childhood stories that the residents told as I was making a bed or helping with a bath. They would smile as they described homes with no electricity or running water and sewing patches on jeans that were already inches too short as they proudly made it through the “tough times.”
The staff working there were loving and kind, as if taking care of their own mother and father…all except one woman: Martha Jean. Behind her back, the residents called her Big Mean Martha Jean. After one hour at the nursing home, I understood why.
“Treat these old people like babies, ‘cause they ARE!” was her only advice to me as my mentor. That comment began an extremely stressful two weeks of training as I watched Big Mean Martha Jean intimidate and bully the residents.
I fell in love with one petite 92 year old lady named Nettie. She told me she had lived there for more years than she could count and the only time she didn’t love it was when Big Mean Martha Jean was working her shift.
Early one morning I went into Nettie’s room to help her because she had not been feeling well. I knelt beside the bed and asked “How are you today, Nettie?” but before she could answer, I heard Mean Norma Jean. “Get out of bed NOW!” she demanded. “You think you should get special treatment ‘cause you don’t feel good? Not on my shift!” She jerked the covers off both the bed and Nettie and stomped out.
I hugged Nettie. “Are you okay?” “Yes, yes, I’m fine. God is good. It’s going to be okay.” “Are you sure?” She nodded and smiled. “What goes around comes around. That’s what I always told my kids when they were little.”
A week later I was walking with Martha Jean when Nettie called from her room. “Miss Martha, could you come in here please?” she asked in her quiet, frail voice. “I need to talk to you, just for a second.” Big Mean Martha Jean rolled her eyes at me and sighed. “What does SHE want now? Come on.” as we turned back to go in the room.
Nettie had the covers of her bed pulled up under her chin with one tiny little hand grasping the silky edge. “Just come here for a minute, that’s all,” she encouraged.
As Martha Jean leaned over Nettie and snarled “WHAT? WHAT do you want?” Nettie’s left hand jerked down the covers and her right hand swung a pink furry house shoe with 100% accuracy, smacking Big Mean Martha Jean across the face. “Take that, you old heifer!” Mercy!
Nettie passed away about a year later and I have no doubt that God met her at the pearly gates and told her that her pink furry house shoes would not be needed since there is a “no heifers allowed” policy in heaven.
I’m told that Big Mean Martha Jean changed after that encounter with Nettie. From that moment on she stood at the door when elderly residents needed to talk to her for “just a second.” Everything else stayed the same…because, no matter what, some people are just plain mean.
Today’s Key Scripture in Proverbs 11:17 could clearly have been written for Big Mean Martha Jean. She certainly brought trouble on herself by how she treated other people. But I have to look inward, too. How many times have I been unkind and abrupt with someone when I could have just as easily treated them as I would have wanted to be treated? (Luke 6:31) How about you?
My prayer is that we will always remember Nettie and Big Mean Martha Jean and that no one will ever look at us and think “why ya gotta be so mean?”


Father, help me to always be an example of you to everyone. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.


Have you ever been treated badly by someone like Big Mean Martha Jean? Did you question whether you have treated someone like that, too?


Journal the names of those people you know who seem to always have a mean attitude and beside each name write down how you can be Jesus to them. Then act.


Proverbs 11:17 (NIV) “A kind man benefits himself, but a cruel man brings trouble on himself.”

Luke 6:31 (NIV) “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Mark 12:31 (NIV) “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

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Copyright 2013  Nancy E. Hughes