Is it the fact that I have a massive people pleasing side that makes it such a conundrum for me to deal with insults and conflict, perceived or real? I dunno.
Have some background to this post’s thrust: I have a friend on facebook that I’ve known a few years. He’s had a hard life. He has numerous issues. One of them being an inferiority complex hiding a superiority complex. I say that with such confidence because I reckon lots of people labour under that one, I recognise it, being one of them myself!
So anyway. Most of the time, he’s one of those FB friends who posts inspirational memes, and starts stimulating discussions. And sometimes people are unaccountably rude to him. I feel his vulnerability, and have stuck up for him in the past, several times.
He’s quick to take offence. And apparently, slow to learn, in the sense that twice in the last month he’s taken to me, snapping like a yappy dog, when I’ve had the slightest disagreement with him. Being as angry with me as with those who have been nothing but rude to him. Despite my attempts at calming p-mails, he’s still…bristly. After the last I sent him, I got a public thread reply, just prickling with contempt (yes, I don’t think that’s too strong a word) for both the English (he’s American), and for the uneducated of his own country. And there was a nice little insult for me in his paragraph too. About how ‘very young’ I am.
It was one of those sly insults. One that tries to come off as a cool calm comment. What it was, was a condescending slap.
Now – here’s what I’m going to talk about (finally, I hear you moan): my perplexity in the face of being insulted – how to react for the best??
To be having a conversation with someone who undermines everything you previously said by asserting you are ‘very young’ is frustrating. So – apart from the fact that I’m nearly 42, and I’m not going to debate my maturity or immaturity (it fluctuates, I’m erratic, I own it freely) – its feeble to assert ‘young’ people have no right to their stance or view simply because of their age. Or that they cannot disagree with an older person (especially, in this case, an older person who tantrums when you disagree with them, rather than discuss it).
I think it’s funny that I have always put such energy into how I react when I am perplexed by an insult. No matter how ‘right’ I might feel, or how misguided or misunderstood I might feel myself or the other person is – and no matter how much my kneejerk reaction is always either: want to answer back crossly/ cry/ walk away and never come back…I ALWAYS end up putting much thought into my reaction. If I have managed to avoid the kneejerk three. Which occasionally I have. So far, in this case, I have.
I always want, wish, to react – well. Proportionally.
I think maybe the jibe about me being ‘very young’ cuts so immediately and annoyingly, because in matters of argument, I always feel I do react exactly like a child. And I wish I reacted like an adult.
So I go through my range of responses I see in those around me, all of which I feel are better than the ones I usually give in to.
There’s the obvious way of Silent Dignity. Stanley is in favour of this one (which is amusing, considering how he loves a good argument). I am befuddled by this one. It turns out I am not even on nodding terms with dignity, so I’m not sure how it is done. I am told it involves simply IGNORING the offending comment, and letting the snideness of the whole paragraph he wrote speak for itself. So that anyone else who reads it would think he was being OTT, and there I am being dignified by remaining aloof.
But then: (a) this reminds me of when there are allegations against celebrities in the press. You read them and think ‘gosh, is that true?’ if it’s someone you like, and then there’s no answer…so you don’t know. The mud has been slung, and it just sits there, dripping, ruining the view.
I feel the Silent Dignity response lacks…balance. The other side of the story is not addressed; the responding answer not given.
Also – does it not come off similar to sulking?!
And, (b) ignoring something is hard! Here I am, itching to reply, to defend myself and strongly. To up the ante.
This brings me to my next example of a response. I straw-polled Troubadour. Now, Troubadour is something of a mini legend in everyone’s lunchtime when it comes to arguments. Where Stanley is all about logic, logical fallacies and scientific debunking of false ‘facts’, Troubadour is a whole different (and rare) kettle of fish. He’s the best Character Assassin I’ve ever seen work. I’ve seen him do a complete Personality Takedown in a couple of sentences. Its not about facts, or fallacies – it’s about winning. Destruction of the opponent, not the argument. However – if your opponent’s self-esteem just puddled on the floor, you pretty much won that argument, didn’t you? What was it you said?! I remember evenings in pubs where smoke misted in front of his face, and an amused (and yes, malevolent) look in his eyes, as he shifted position and went for the exact weak spots in a person he had located. If it was a woman, the assassination would be begun or ended with “darling”, said in a drippingly acidic way that never failed to make my stomach turn over. Yes. My exhub was sometimes a not a very nice person at all; but you have to respect the Player at work. It really was awe inspiring to watch him engaged in psychological massacre with someone (not war; as I never saw him lose, not once in 16 years).
So: I’m expecting Troubadour’s response to be that I should say something massively deadly and sniperish – bang bang you’re dead! However unlike me that would be. But…I think he has mellowed. He surprises me by recommending the Silent Dignity approach. Or perhaps he feels its better suited to my personality; more doable? So there will be no murders today then…
The next person to poll would be Fry. Fry hangs out on a million internet forums. He is an expert in internet-based, forum-based disagreements. He has been in many flame wars and lived; been Trolled and been a Troll himself. Lately he has been gaining a reputation of something of a Troll Tamer. He has a technique of never rising to anger or insult, and just calmly carrying on talking. He carries on the conversation quietly, no matter the abuse, no matter the insult. To him it’s all a game. Eventually, the Troll calms down and becomes friends with him. Fry says Trolls are usually very clever people who are bored to death. Fry is very good at standing back from things, at not taking them either seriously or personally. What an amazing skill! This is one I really need to learn. My own current feeling on that is simply that if someone says something TO ME, how can it be anything other than personal? They didn’t say it to someone else, after all. Then again; I agree that people speak out of their own lives and issues, and as I’m not them, how am I to know what they are living through, what may prompt them to overreact to me? Or me to them, for that matter.)
Fry is all about the standing back. The next move. In any conversation, he’s a quiet strategist. Annoyingly he’s out and not answering his phone, so I can’t question him on this. But knowing him well, I think he would say this: (a) this is the ‘net, it’s not real – people behave on the net as they never would in real life – they let fly with much less inhibition. Basically they are crazy drunks without a drop of alcohol in them; screeching toddlers in 50 year old bodies. (b) Its not personal, chill. (c) do you want to snipe back? In which case, craft it… (d) But then, mum, you’re too soft for these games…ignore it. It’s just a man, grumbling – you have not begun to see some of the Trolling I have, this is nothing! Shrug it off!
So I take that as another vote for Silent Dignity, with a side dish of ‘whatever, fuck it!’
But virtuous as Silent Dignity might look, it still feels like I would be acting it if I did it. See how Mature I Am! I Do Not Rise To This!
Would it not be more authentic of me to have a bit of a stomp?! But then…this is a very my generation thing, isn’t it? This wanting to let it all hang out this way. What would a stomp accomplish? Even if I tried to do it calmly? I would just end up looking as snide as The Insulter.
Hmm. A quagmire. So I shall look at some more people, and how they would react. A role model.
The first one that comes to mind is My Mother. She is incredibly charitable and very good. (And she reads this blog! Oh hush hush, mum, it’s my blog – if I think you are good I can say so! Goodness is in the eye of the beholder!! Stop shaking your head now!) I think she would counsel me to try and understand why he was so vehement and upset. To try and see his side of things. And reply quietly and calmly, and short. Which sounds very sensible. It fits with my burning need to SAY SOMETHING BACK (‘you hurt my feelings! I want to beat your head with a shovel!’), but requires me to put a ton of proper empathic brainwork behind it. As she’s Christian, she would pray over it, if it was her. We are very alike, she and I, both terrible brooders over incidents that have unsettled us – so I know she would pray both over her own reaction and the anger/hurt, and over the other person, who she would see as also in pain, and would pray for them to be comforted. Damn good woman, my mum.
There is a further approach to conflict, to any relation with people, that I do try to emulate. It’s an idea that my good friend Dreamer practices. He calls it The Line. (Any errors in describing this are all mine.) It’s an idea with you all the time, in every dealing with every person. If done correctly it prevents upset and overreaction. It begins: There is a Line. You yourself stand above it, always. Above the line means approval and good relationship. The idea is: you are always in good relationship with yourself. Based on how other people treat you, their words and actions, depends on whether they are above the Line (in good relationship and happy company with you); on the Line (you are behaving dodge-ily and I am frowning a bit, but giving you the benefit of the doubt); or below the Line(you have behaved badly and I am unimpressed). The merits of this simple system are threefold.
Firstly, people move up and down based on every encounter – so there’s no typical me behaviour of holding a grudge for 50 years! If someone has behaved better this time than last time you saw them, they move up. It’s flexible, and constantly moving, pragmatic. Secondly, as a system: its cool and cucumbery. You are always (second nature it becomes, he tells me) reassessing people. It prevents you from getting all over emotional because there’s no reading between the lines. There’s assessing, judging people by their actions, in relation to you.
Lastly, and the greatest joy of the system for someone like me, is what you do mentally with people who have fallen below the Line: you give them absolutely no thought at all. If they have behaved badly enough to have fallen below the line (and it’s supposed to err on the side of generosity in application), then they are not worthy of you at the moment. Not worthy of your thoughts, your voice, your actions, nothing. They become more or less invisible, in terms of importance. This means that if they are people you see around the place, work or pub, for example, you simply treat them politely as colleagues or as fellow drinkers (etc) when you bother to engage with them at all. They may take from your distractedness what they will. (Remembering most people are too self-centred to possibly even notice they are being treated differently!) Once a person is below the line, they have every chance to come up again, but it’s up to them to prove themselves to you. If you notice they are making deliberate attempts to get back in your good books, or just generally being much more agreeable and not at all rude, you can assess if you feel its sufficient and acceptable, and alter your behaviour toward them accordingly (having raised them to – ‘on the line, I’m keeping half an eye on you’).
If done wrong, the line could look to outsiders like extensive game playing. It’s anything but. Whenever I have tried to implement this system of thought I have found it a great aid to being calmer and less emotional about things that have unsettled me. However, I often fail at the Line because I fall at the first hurdle: that of You Yourself Are Always Above the Line and in Good Relationship With Yourself. With my degree of self doubt, and on some days, self-loathing, I find the Line very hard to implement simply because I second guess myself SO MUCH that when I have had a disagreement with someone, I can’t quite tell who is at fault; and have a horrible suspicion it is Always Me.
Dreamer has commented on two things about my attempt to implement The Line. One, that I need to love myself MUCH more to get it to work best; and Two, that this only what he does, and I can change and alter it to fit myself better. Trouble is; I feel it’s a perfect system of thought now, just as it is.
And in this case, the purpose of this post, it’s another vote for Silent Dignity, isn’t it? Because I’ve fallen out with the Insulter before, smoothed it privately, yet here he is, doing it AGAIN, and publicly…I think I would be correct to take him from On the Line, to Below the Line. By which token he no longer exists till I see him trying to be nice to me. Actually, I’m feeling pretty good about that analysis. That’s Silent Dignity with a proper reason behind it. (And it also kills this post dead, doesn’t it? What am I doing, bleating on endlessly about someone who isn’t worth a thought at the moment?!!)
There are 2 other perspectives I could reference. There’s the one I grew up with: What Would Jesus Do? The answer there is immediately clear and has been drilled into me: Forgive Him. It’s not so much the Turn the Other Cheek, as I think unstable people can be enraged if you do that. But genuinely forgive him. He knows not what he does, etc. I save myself all aggro by just…letting go, with goodwill. I quite like this reaction too. It’s kindly, and charitable. If I could do it genuinely, then gosh – wouldn’t I be a better person? It means also, I could respond if I want to, but calmly. Trouble is, I have taken offence myself (‘very young’ – humpf, indeed!!). I find it hard to not be wary. And – is forgive always linked to forget? I’m not so good at forgetting…
Then there’s a strain of thought in my life that’s a bit difficult to describe. Its sort of old fashioned. Related to fairy tales and fiction, and the Knights of the Round Table; to history and Bruce Lee, Jeet Kune Do. To the Wiccan writer Kerr Cuhulain and his concept of Modern Knighthood, an ethical system. To the Nine noble Virtues of Asatru (paying attention to number one of the Nine Charges, in this case). I can express it best in lists of qualities, the Me I Try To Be: Courage, Honour, Integrity, Industriousness, Courteousness, Duty…you get where I’m going with this sort of list? I am reading a lot of Cuhulain at the moment, so I’ll wander through some of his knightly precepts for advice:
According to a principle like Know Yourself, I would consider exactly how much I am at fault for this argument; I will take my own qualities and ways of reacting into account. If I tried to see beyond the obvious, beyond what is usually perceived by the eye – perhaps I wouldn’t view this as a disagreement at all, but simply a learning opportunity. Observe my reactions, work on them if unsatisfied.
I would consider a principle like Right Action. Takedown would not be right action in this case – total overreaction.
I would Not Engage in Useless Activity: why am I arguing futilely on the ‘net with a damaged person a continent away?? What good does it do either of us? I have many more profitable things I could be doing…we need plates! I should be washing up! (Cuhulain’s principle of Do Not Be Negligent Even in Trifling Matters, here!)
How about the Gods Cannot Help Those Who Do Not Help Themselves? The Insulter has a pattern of stropping emotionally whenever disagreed with. Of declaring his trials and misfortunes and woes, like a badge. It stops people in their tracks, so taken are they with his plight; they stop disagreeing with him. I did, the first time. Now I think…you are playing victim to shut people up; maybe you don’t know you are doing it (done it myself in the past; easily done). I have a problem with losing my temper easily. How am I to overcome it, if I don’t learn to restrain my temper by shutting up in actual confrontation if my only response is an unconstructive angry rude one?!
There’s You Create Your Own Reality. (Not in an overbearing Law of Attraction way – some other post I will talk about this idea that’s taken over the New Age booksellers and lots of magickal books; it’s got a very sound basis, BUT has been stretched into some ridiculous and dangerous shapes by some authors). In this case, that means me acknowledging that I am in this situation partly because I helped make it. Definitely true: I answered the Insulter back, and twice – I engaged in the conflict without much thought to the outcome. So now I’m here, I should learn from it.
This is all sounding like another vote for Silent Dignity. Only it’s starting to seem less and less like an act I would be doing, and more and more like…the right, reasoned thinking thing to do, here. Maybe I am edging toward a sense of Right Action?
Alright. Summarise. Insulted by a semi friend I usually like quite a bit in a forum on the ‘net. Possible reactions:
Stanley: Silent Dignity. You have tried reasonable argument, reasoned response. Next step: ignore, cool down.
Troubadour: Silent Dignity. Takedown not merited here. (I don’t think I have that skill, besides; not even in writing, where I’m best.)
Fry: Silent Dignity: Forget about it, unimportant, don’t take it personally – the net is like cars: people don’t behave according to normal rules of engagement.
Mum: Understand, empathise. Based on that, respond or not. But be kind, and think long and hard before responding, if there is to be a response.
Dreamer: Silent Dignity. He has fallen Below the Line with his behaviour. Until he shows you by his behaviour that he is worthy of your attention, he doesn’t exist. Who?!
Jesus: Forgive Him. Be kind in your evaluation. Be understanding. (This isn’t a moneylenders in the temple moment – it’s not that serious – so no righteous anger and action really merited…)
Cuhulain and the idea of Modern Knighthood: understand the situation as a whole, including your own part in getting yourself here. Understand your own emotional reaction; assess whether response is necessary. Perhaps simply to learn is enough, here? You can’t change the other person’s victimy way of behaving, or the insecurity that caused the jibe to undermine me about my youth. The goal of modern knighthood is self mastery. So to respond crossly is stupid, uncontrolled, and unproductive.
Hmm…Also, one of my favourite quotes is: ‘Be the change you want to see’ (regardless of who said it or how accurate that quote is or isn't). I could be strong but courteous. Bushido code-ish (rei = courtesy; jin = compassion/mercy/benevolence). I could be sincere, chivalrous – not kick a man who is definitely already feeling down. I want to be better than that.
I still have absolutely no idea how to respond, if I chose to. I don’t think I have the cool head enough to pick the wise words that would be the oil on troubled waters…(never quite understood that expression). But I AM wise enough to know that means I should probably keep my mouth shut now…I don’t want further conflict. I should Keep Silent (there’s another old magickal concept for you, applied here).
I am always waffling on about the concept of empathy, here and in other posts. Could it be I should just choose to let my anger and hurt drain away, to simply understand another’s pain, which causes them to react unreasonably? And considering I helped the situation arise, I could just let it go, with compassion for us both. Without attaching undue importance to it…
It is amusing, is it not, that I just spent YEARS of your life here, debating at truly EXCRUCIATING LENGTH, what to do about something and to end up deciding to do nothing elsewhere? Which I knew at the start was the correct thing to do?! I just had to thoroughly think it through, with the aid of the cooler heads…That does make me smile.
Oh well, let’s hope my ‘workings out’ here (oh! It’s a maths exam!) help other people think when their heads feel hot.
And to a resounding, Dignified Silence, I go…
…to do the washing up.