Does anyone else feel like they’re slowly becoming a worse and worse person?

A moment of self-reflection

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Olivia Tilson is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily.

Emma Klein | Cavalier Daily

I have spent the previous five years of my life reminiscing about how horrible middle schoolers were — myself included. Middle schoolers suck always. I have spent the previous year and a half of college remembering the general faults of high schoolers and therefore remaining secure in my belief that everyone is truly a better version of themselves now — as self-aware adults. It has taken a lot for me to challenge this belief but after some unfortunate self-realizations and some soul-searching I’ve come to realize that I’m for sure worse than I was in high school — I’m still unsure of the comparison to middle school me. Thirteen is a rough age. 

My unfortunate self-realizations were not spurred by one single, mean incident. It was more so that I gradually became aware of how frequently I think mean things. I don’t always say them, which I do think counts for something, but they are often in the back of my mind pushing forward without any control of my own. One particularly telling pattern of mean, aggressive thoughts occurs whenever I’m stuck behind a particularly slow walker. It does not matter if I’m in a rush to get to class or literally have nothing planned for the next four hours. Slow walkers aggravate me, and I scream really harsh and unnecessary things at them within my head. This was all O.K. until I found myself rolling my eyes, pointedly walking around people just slightly too close and sighing loudly. My inner turmoil was bubbling out. I understand the slow walker is not trying to make my life more difficult or bother me, but I still feel personally attacked by their actions and react with disproportionate anger.

As a kid and throughout secondary school, I remember being unable to say negative things about my friends and classmates — my brother was excluded from these restraints. I genuinely tried not to gossip or hold grudges. Now I savor gossiping and love (jokingly) tearing apart anyone who’s wronged me in my head or to a few close friends. I know its a bad habit, and I know my reaction is never appropriate, but it’s honestly more based around entertainment than anger or malice.

I do not actually want my friends to think any less of the person I’m bashing — I don’t even really think less of the person I’m bashing. I rarely even know the person I’m bashing. I’m just remembering some “rando” who briefly wronged me and recounting it dramatically to my friends. 

However, my intentions are not really that important. I’m still gossipping and insulting people, which is something I would not have done when I was younger, or at least would not have done as frequently. I recognize that gossipping and bashing are not good habits, but the genuine sense of guilt from doing these things is not nearly as strong as it was.

I have two theories as to why I — and I’m assuming others — are becoming worse people. First of all, I think we have become somewhat bored after the sense of wonder normally present in adolescence and after the raging hormones and emotional sensitivity present in middle school and high school. I mentioned earlier the entertainment factor of gossip and ranting, and I think that is one of the main reasons I am meaner now. I just need something to do. Actual goals and reality can be boring and spicing things up with some dramatic insults and untempered rage can help.  

My other theory lies with the psychological theory of cognitive dissonance. I’m taking a social psychology class this semester but otherwise have almost no understanding of psychology, so I may be wildly misinterpreting this theory. But here goes nothing — this theory seems to be a way of explaining people’s reactions to behaviors that do not match up with their personal beliefs, such as believing that gossipping is wrong while still gossipping. The more I gossipped or bashed the more my mindset shifted to believing that these actions were not actually that bad. So therefore, it makes sense that I’d be becoming worse with age because my mind was uncomfortable with any misdeed I did — pushing me to adjust my mindset thus clearing the way for future misdeeds. 

I know that neither of these theories in any way justify being mean, but they do back up my recent musings about morality and aging. I think we may not actually have a more negative impact on those around us as we get older, but I do think we become more aware and intentional in our actions. I know when I’m doing something wrong, and I still choose to do it. 

My mistakes are less based on inexperience, lack of self-awareness or immaturity now, but I probably do not make quite as many mistakes as I did as a kid because I’m aware that they are mistakes. Maybe that makes these mistakes morally worse, but overall, the consequences of my intentional actions do less harm because they are less frequent. I’m not claiming any moral high ground here, pretty much the exact opposite — I am a worse person.  And if my mistakes involve judging people too much, so be it.

Olivia Tilson is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com

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