Do You Look Down On Others?

Do You Look Down On Others?

In a touching first person article, Ada Calhoun talks about how she and her friends spent a summer in a photo lab, mostly making fun of the people in the photos.

To be fair, she was 21, and to be fair, we ALL judge people based on appearance and come to false conclusions about them. Hell, in my 20’s, I used to go to bars with my roommate and we’d make up limericks about total strangers just to entertain ourselves since we didn’t have the guts to approach women.

The people you’re making fun of are often a lot happier and better adjusted than you are.

But, there’s often a deep underlying irony when it comes to schadenfreude. Namely that the people you’re making fun of are often a lot happier and better adjusted than you are.

Says Calhoun, “We made fun of the people in the pictures for being desperate, but no one was more desperate than we were. At parties I often pretended to be someone named Amy and occasionally mud-wrestled. I was living with a boyfriend I would later marry and quickly divorce. Stephen frequently confessed to me sordid exploits that even I was shocked by. Richard had sworn off love and sex altogether. We were deeply flawed, unhappy people with lousy lives.”

I know that I was a wiseass kid. I know that I still have a streak of that in me. But I’ve also grown more compassionate and understanding of strangers, and attempt to put myself in their shoes instead of demonizing them. In fact, the only time you’ll see me get a bit agitated in the comments section of this site is when a stranger has taken absolutely no pains to try to understand ME – and resorts to insults, name-calling, or merely asserting that I’m wrong.

So, please, read this short piece about looking down on others and try to look at your fellow citizens through a prism of compassion, instead of scorn.

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  1. 1
    Grace Pamer

    Nice honest sentiment Evan.   I was born to be a sensitive soul and am a very considerate person so have not had this issue but I’ve known some rather unpleasant characters over the years who could do with a dose of reading this article.   I’ll tweet it out in the hope some of them maybe on twitter!   🙂

  2. 2

    Thanks Evan for this piece on our “it’s you, not me” culture. I love your articles because what I always get as the take away is being your best self will always serve you well and in addition just might help you to find that right one. And even if we don’t find him/her, being the best versions of ourselves is still a win.

  3. 3

    Thank you Evan.
    i,d like to say i find it ironic that older men and women, especially women, are considered fair game.  
    We,ll all be old one day if we don’t die first. Our own old age  might be a happier experience if we don’t spend our youth despising our elders.
    mind you, one of the consolations of getting older is that you stop caring what people think of you.   

  4. 4
    Jackie Holness

    As a childhood victim of bullying, I try to not engage in this behavior…

  5. 5

    Marymary 3 is right: WHY is it older women are so picked on in this society? Case in point: Hilary Clinton, Joan Rivers, Kirstie Alley. Lately Nancy Pelosi for being too “old” per Tim Russert’s son Luke. etc. etc. Once when breaking up with a man nearly my age (only three years younger and in his fifties also) he told me “you’re just an old woman”. To which I responded,   “then you are too- ____, you’re only three years younger. Uh,  Duh!”.

    The whole online dating thing is so often silly and superficial and sometimes kinda dangerous that it’s easy to lampoon  all the participants, one way or another. The assumption also is if you’re online dating you are sleeping around with abandon and having just too much fun.  Often  friends my age (boomer women,  married and unmarried) would look at me concerned that I was swinging a bit too much from the chandeliers, having too much fun. I know for a fact that I was probably gossiped about both at work and in my family and social circle. It was probably my fault as I confided too much about the process. I needed to confide  because, man!, I  mostly despised the three years I dated online. lol  But like Marymary, I mostly don’t care anymore what others think as I  now thoroughly know myself and accept myself.  Have no allusions about myself even.

    Finally re putdowns, I really thought most of this behavior ends shortly after college.  I don’t know anybody who is vicious that way- at least not in my social circle. I wouldn’t socialize with them for one thing.

  6. 6

    Thanks for this. It really makes me think. I really try as much as I can to even deal with negative people by reminding myself that they too are human beings, flawed like we all are. It helps to have empathy and realise that everyone is struggling through life. I find myself constantly in awe of people who have dealt with a lot in this life but keep powering on.

    I volunteered with a charity last year and there was this man there who died recently. I knew he was ill but I didn’t think much about it. This man was very ill and devoted his life to the charity – he was there every weekend and spent all his free time on it. I later discovered that he had been given limited time. He was told by a doctor that he could drop dead any minute. He’d mentioned walking the Great Wall of China and climbing Mount Everest. Suddenly those stories took on a new significance when I became aware of how he’d stayed positive in face of fear. I also know a war veteran who is almost 100 years old now. I asked him what the secret to long life is. And he said “As soon as you stay sitting in your chair, that’s it”. He has this great enthusiastic attitude towards life – a great sense of ‘get up and go’.  

    The sentiments in the article really resounded with me in terms of how I think about my parents. I know everyone has issues with their parents and I think I’ve had a lot of growing up recently. I can see all their flaws but it only makes me love them more. I look back on past boyfriends now and try to love parts of them. It’s strange but I can see their weakness and their humanity now.

    I have great belief that most people see who you really are beyond the  façade and treat you accordingly; that most of us are good  and kind at heart. I simply do not believe what people say about modernity or capitalism corrupting people as a whole. I think there is something fundamentally positive and human which we all share and is worth reaching out for.

    Another thing which struck me as interesting is an article I came across which talked about how attractive people are more conformist, perhaps more critical of others for that reason. Think it links in quite well to the subject of the article. Often people who are deemed ‘ugly’ are quite well-adjusted. Or maybe in general people are better adjusted when they focus more on what is essentially human than qualities which are fleeting and superficial.

  7. 7

    It sounds horrible to say, but I’m younger and relatively more attractive and frequently find myself mocking other women in my head for being plain and generic. I feel ashamed of myself for doing so. It must be a defense mechanism. Ultimately, I’m insecure because men use me for my looks a lot, and it seems like the generic, or even unattractive, women often have boyfriends because to get a boyfriend you need a guy who is not distracted by your looks but focused on your personality. I’m really trying to not think such mean thoughts, it’s not right. But I could relate to the article.

  8. 8

      @Jenna #7

    I am extremely impressed by your honesty. Thanks for having the courage (and vulnerability) to share.  

  9. 9

    That was a well-written, witty article.   I appreciated the author’s self-deprecating humor, confiding that she sometimes went to parties using a pseudonym and also that she mudwrestled.   That’s completely hilarious.

    I don’t like cruel humor, but I do enjoy laughing about almost anything.   While I don’t think it is promotes good juju to sit around and rip on other people, I think seeing the silliness in any situation is positive as long as one can first and foremost see the ridiculousness within themselves.

    Hey, Lucy #7.   That is also a fun article you’ve linked to.   Thank you for sharing it.

  10. 10

    Every day I try not to judge or look down on people but I’m sure I’ll still do it.   A friend of mine who took a consciousness raising course told me he learned that we are all “judgement machines”.   Gratefully I am at a point in my life where I can recognize it and catch myself, remind myself what I am doing, and thus stop it.
    Having been the target of judgement and criticism from a female “friend” over the last few years who I am gingerly extricating myself from has definitely heightened my awareness.   This woman is apparently in a constant state of judgment and criticism of other people.   Since she has a warm, welcoming side, I tried to be compassionate but when the comments were directed at me, that was the beginning of the end.   None of us are perfect but when “friends” that we think are on our side look down on us due to their own insecurity, it can still be devastating. I am still climbing out of the emotional morass that this woman’s repeated pattern of subtle and insidious put downs led me to.   I realize intellectually that her judgements and put downs say much more about her own miserable state of mind than about me but it still hurts when someone feels the need to do this.     I guess she is what they call a “frenemy”. Negotiating the delicate balance of compassion and self-preservation while I distance myself from her is challenging indeed.

    1. 10.1

      How are you coping Now? I am in the same exact boat. It is painful. And I can only imagine the bullshit she is spreading….. and in there I think, perhaps I am wrong for judging the conversations, the ones that felt wrong and uncomfortable to be having. I practiced the Golden Rule….. I am one of few.

  11. 11

    @ Soul Normally, I like what you have to say, but since Jenna is posting online, anonymously (since no last name, and I’m assuming she’s not the only “Jenna” in the world), I’m not  sure why you think she has courage and vulnerability. Going up to the people she’s been cruel to and apologizing would be courageous. (She says she “thinks” these things, but I doubt she stopped with “thinking.”) Posting online? Not so much. I was a victim of bullying throughout my childhood, well into college, and at times even now. I endured monumental cruelty to the extent that I tried to kill myself twice when I was 13, and have battled depression and suicidal thoughts since. I knew things about kids in school that I could have thrown back at them, made them feel as awful as I did, but I never did. I never picked on anyone, I never look down on anyone, and I’ve never belittled anyone. I know all too well what it feels like. Don’t diminish the value of words like “courage” and “vulnerable” by tossing them out so casually, please.

  12. 12

    I was thinking about the phrase “attractive people are more conformist”, but I can’t help but think “conformist people are (probably) more attractive”.   If you subscribe to societal beauty ideals – hairstyles, fashion, hygiene, wearing makeup, staying in shape, etc – then however you’d be objectively viewed would probably be higher.   I don’t think you can go from a 2 to a 9, but you can probably go from a 5 to a 7/8.
    I don’t know that I’ve judged people based on their physical looks, but I know I’m guilty of “What are they THINKING?” You know… “How could they wear this to a job interview?”, “She needs a serious haircut” or in online dating, I sometimes wonder WHY people post pictures.   Halloween was just last week, and I saw multiple men put a photo of them as Bane from Batman (face mask and all) as their man online dating picture.   I recall another guy who basically took a bunch of web-cam photos of himself and put LOLCAT-style captions on all of them.   He had messaged me and I didn’t write back (mostly because I was a month into dating another guy, and just didn’t want to totally delete my account, but I did think this idea for dating site pics was weird).   A couple days later, without knowing what I thought, I get a second email from LOLCAT man.   It was an angry tirade about what a snob I am and “It’s not just about looks”.   I don’t know.   It didn’t matter because I ended up dating the other guy exclusively for a long time, but I don’t know if judging this guy for his “weirdness” (not ugliness, just thought the LOLCAT thing was weird – or at the very least, not my sense of humor), but then I thought he was rude and presumptuous, and it doubly turned me off.
    I’m not going to judge people on what God gave them, but I think it’s hard not to have some type of reaction when a person makes you go “What are they thinking?” Not to the extent of teasing/bullying them or making fun of them behind their backs.

  13. 13

    Sara, I’ve endured a lot of cruelty in my life as well. That’s why generally I try to give others a chance. Trying to observe my thoughts and emotions better, I noticed that I do feel mild annoyance or contempt at times when I learn that a cute, cool guy I know or work with has a plain Jane girlfriend, or a dowdy girl has a great husband,  but I would NEVER say that out loud, nor would it mean I wouldn’t give the girl a chance. It just comes naturally and I have to press the stop button in my head and realize it’s coming out of insecuritygetting triggered  rather than a genuine dislike of plain people, which would be bizarre.  I do notice that plain people seem to be better adjusted about this stuff, though, and prettier girls can be cattier, but there are good and bad people in both categories.

  14. 14

    @ Jenna,

    I apologize. I should not have assumed that you behave in a manner other than you admitted in your previous post.
    My anger and hostility  in my own statement came primarily from the post that followed, which suggested that  someone   should be praised as “courageous” for admitting that type of behavior anonymously/online when I have been working my way through the damage caused by such behavior for most of my life. I think we can agree that it is easy to admit online, and therefore, the use of the term “courageous” is a ridiculous overstatement.

  15. 15

    I really like this article b/c so many of the discussions about dating and finding a partner start with people pointing out how beautiful/pretty/handsome they are.   Some commenters here love to point out angrily the ugly/fat/uneducated people that are happily married when they are ‘perfect’ in so many ways an struggle to find love.

    Even when approaching or well past middle-age, a lot of people believe that these beauty hierarchies that existed when you were in middle school, high school, or college still matter.

    I remember when I was in college, a group of friends who were all pretty geeky (even at a super selective school of high achievers)and who would not be considered conventionally attractive by any metrics.   I don’t think they were openly bullied, but a lot of kids snickered about how dorky they were/looked.

    But I also remember how they all clearly found each other, all found solid partners in college, and married them.   They dated and were friends with people who shared their interests.   All of those girls and guys that were actually discussed and mocked for being ugly, dorky, etc. (one set of the girls were compared to the character Pat on SNL), have been happily married for years and have babies.

    When we have college reunions, people separate into their college cliques and the dinners and picnics, and that group of friends still happily comes together with their respective partners and children.   They are easily one of the happiest looking bunches of friends there.   
    It makes me very happy to see.   Happy that being different didn’t affect them, and they either didn’t know or didn’t care about the rude things that some people said about them.   And it should remind you that everyone can find love and be happy.

    It’s probably worthwhile in many parts of your life not to assume that you should be happier, more successful, or more loved than others b/c you fit certain standards or can check certain boxes.

  16. 16

    @Sara, # 11

    you are definitely right, and I am sorry I chose the wrong words. I wanted to acknowledge that is is not easy to do, but you are right that courage” and “vulnerability” are really too strong for an online anonymous post (as opposed to face-to-face excuses)…  

    i am sorry for what what you went through, that must have been horrible, specially when you are young and unable to defend yourself….we, as human beings, can be so cruel to each other…specially in childhood…

  17. 17

    Until we learn to see others as God sees us all, we will still struggle with being superficial and pretentious.   I have been as guilty as anyone and I think that if we fear letting anyone get too close to us, it can be used to hold others at arms’ length.   

  18. 18

    When you really have yourself in order, you’re too busy to be thinking about other people so much. I’ve been guilty of the opposite to the main post. I tend to think everyone is better than me and had to get some therapy for it – it’s not any more noble though, just another form of egotism. I really admire people who go their own way and continue to be good people, while remaining unaffected by others’ judgements. Because our life is our own and no one can live it for us. And I remind myself that the people who made fun of me in the past, can see my strength. I’m a quiet and more measured person which has unsettled some people who expect I should be up all the time. But I’m comfortable with how I am and it’s only those people   who see it as a problem. This is why I’m so sure this is an issue of conformity, and the people used to following it, have to uphold themselves to an image all the time. That only sounds stressful to me.

  19. 19

    Am I the only one who thinks that Ada Calhoun shouldn’t be so hard on herself? She was placed in a situation that was ripe for making fun of others. If any of us was in the same situation, we would probably  make fun of some of the photos too; it doesn’t automatically make us mean human beings. Dating does bring out a ridiculous side of humankind (i.e., her points about the costumes). Personally I think it is okay to laugh, as  long as we recognize that we all have the  same flaws to some degree, and therefore we are  also  laughing at that ridiculous part of our own selves.

    I am one of Nicole #15’s nerds. Bullied as a child, made fun of in college by some, yet  in the end I didn’t mind, because the people who loved and appreciated me were always the most interesting and fun in my nerdy opinion.

    Lucy #18 had a good point when she said that “When you really have yourself in order, you’re too busy to be thinking about other people so much.” Nerds fall into this category. Not that we necessarily have ourselves in order (at least,  others always see things about us that they want to fix), but we’re okay enough  with ourselves  that we can focus on other things, like solving all the problems of the world. We don’t have the time or interest to harp on others’ looks.   Looks are not important problems in our book.

  20. 20

    I truly don’t look down on others & never have.     But am I the only one who finds that men often seem to appreciate women who do?   Many guys I’ve known think that if a girl makes snide cracks about others but is pleasant to him, he’s one of the few who’s passed her “cool test” and he feels flattered and as though he’s special.   She’s elitist and he just “made the grade.   I genuinely consider everyone — those richer or poorer, better looking or less so, etc — my equal and some men think that makes me somehow less discerning.   Sad.

    1. 20.1


      All I can say for that last, is, it doesn’t work for me. There are few things that make any woman, how ever hot she is, lose her luster with me faster than being a snob and/or a judgmental bitch. Matter of fact, I think the prettier a woman is, the less reason she has to make someone else less, so she can feel like more. There’s a line between making some goood-humored observations about someone else’s foibles, and being mean-spirited; I think most of us know where that line is. Some don’t, and it’s not a very attractive quality

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