To quote Victor Hugo’s play about the poor, wretched lives of those living in Paris during the Revolution, I have a question to ponder: why do miserable people insist on making other people miserable?

The question was first brought to my attention in my favorite movie, Clueless. When D is talking to Cher about why her debate teacher gave her a C, she argues that “He’s a miserable little man who wants to make everyone else miserable too.” This launches into a fabulous montage and Cher spends a great deal of the film trying to make her teacher happy, which has positive consequences for all involved. But moving on.

Why do miserable people think that they can make everyone else miserable? Can downtrodden, unbearably unhappy people just not stand to see people enjoying their own time on the planet? Yes, when you’re alone, all you see are couples everywhere, and when your dog dies, all you see are happy people playing with their healthy canine friends. But why the need to share the sorrow? Where does that desire to bring everyone else down with you originate? The more important question, perhaps, is why is that somehow an excuse for people to behave like monsters?

My only encounter with a rude French person, during my whole two and a half months in Paris, has been with my neighbor across the hall. A late night knock on the door and subsequent broken French arguing with broken English led me to the conclusion that she thought we were making too much noise by vacuuming at 10:00 at night. Just to eradicate any chance of catastrophe, I decided to email our landlady and inform her of the issue, just in case it came up again the future and this girl made good on her threat to “call the police”. In my email, I documented a detailed account of the incident, and included assurances that we were being very quiet and respectful and that this was all her unsubstantiated issue. My landlady’s response? Something to the tune of “Maybe she has no man in her life, or perhaps hates her job” and how Americans really do talk too loudly and Europeans aren’t used to that noise. My landlady was making excuses for this evil woman sharing our hallway- did I mention that said neighbor is my exact age, or maybe even younger? She’s not some bitter old bat who hates loud noises and resents young people living their lives. She’s just a malicious and outwardly rude person.

It’s people that rationalize away the meanness and cruelty and spite of others that give “miserable” people carte blance to be complete heartless misers and just excuse themselves with some sob story about their pathetic life and how nothing they do is really their fault. It’s a vicious cycle that just breeds more and more misery.