I taught my daughter not to be a “Mean Girl.”

Here’s what happened:

Hannah Montana came on Disney Channel in the spring of 2006.

It was a “comedy.” And I noticed that MANY of the laughs were achieved by Hannah or one of the other characters saying something mean. Funny, because mean. Possibly with some “truth” to it, even – most funny things are funny because there is some truth in them – but still, mean.

So we had the discussion, more than once: “A lot of her jokes are unkind.” “Notice that.” “It’s a lot more important to be kind than to be ‘funny.’” “You never have to be unkind.” “Being kind is something we have to work at.”

She learned that lesson well. She is not a Mean Girl.

That’s one of the many things that makes me proud of her.

I would have been glad not to have to teach her that lesson. But we live in a place and time where many, many people take pleasure in unkindness, laugh at it, applaud it, admire it, and reward it.

As far as I can tell, the Mean Girl syndrome does not have a lot to do with “religion.” That is, a lot of “religious people” seem to have a taste for unkindness, while plenty of “spiritual but not religious” people and “atheists” do not.

It isn’t even a gender thing, I’ve learned. Men, too, can act like Mean Girls.

This taste for unkindness is not inevitable, or unavoidable, or “just the way it is,” or anything we must resign ourselves to. It is true because we make it true. It could be different.

If “the culture” revels in, applauds, admires, and rewards unkindness, that is down to us.

After all, we are the ones who make the culture.

Our most important votes are not the ones we cast in election booths. They are the ones we cast moment by moment, day after day, week after week and month after month and year after year, by the things we say and do, the things we take pleasure in, laugh at, applaud, admire, and reward, and the things we refuse to affirm in that way.

So, as I said to my daughter, we need to notice what those things are, and we need to be responsible for what we choose.

Because we will not make our culture kinder than we are.

That isn’t how that works.

a hallway in a high school with lockers