I was recently out to dinner with a group of people (men and women) and was keenly aware of the different dynamics present at the table. In several instances it was almost as though one person knew that she could rile up another person simply by talking in a particular tone—call it condescending. Of course this got the other person riled up, and this other person is the type of person who responds angrily to perceived slights or insults. But from my perspective, they weren’t just perceived slights or insults—they were real. The woman was hacking away at this other person, under the guise of being an all-knowing and caring woman. She knew best, and she was being condescending. That doesn’t do much for me and it simply shows me that she doesn’t care about this other person at all. You don’t publicly humiliate another person as a pattern of behavior; yet I have seen a lot of this type of behavior at social gatherings. “You did what? Are you nuts? What’s wrong with you? God you must be crazy! I would never have done that. I never do such things.” Those sorts of comments, the type that are guaranteed to make the recipient feel small. You also have the other types of people, the ones who constantly criticize you or tell you that your way of thinking is wrong without making any attempt at all to understand where you are coming from. “No, you’re wrong. No, that’s not true. No, that’s not right.” I call it dissing. These people have their own agenda and their agenda is the correct agenda. In both cases, there is no acknowledgment of or respect for the other person’s situation or life, no acknowledgment that perhaps the other person has suffered or is struggling. These patterns of behavior are self-promoting and they come from a deep-seated lack of self confidence. If you have to make other people feel small in social situations in order to get attention and make yourself appear as though you’re the best thing ever, then it’s you and not the other person who has the real problem, in my humble opinion. And after this particular gathering, I thought of how much I would have rather spent the evening alone reading a good book instead of wasting time watching other people compete to be the center of attention over a dinner table.
I used to think that the best response to an insult or personal injury was to ’fight back’ in the best way one knew how—a snappy retort, an aggressive verbal response, or a real argument. It was important to defend yourself so that you didn’t appear ‘weak’. To be sure, these are fitting responses in some situations, especially when you feel threatened and the threat is real, e.g. someone really does want to hurt you or take his or her anger or rage out on you. But as I get older, I see that to respond with anger to a situation that makes you feel hurt and angry only adds fuel to the fire. Anger begets anger. The smarter approach is to smile and do nothing at all. If this response does nothing else, it will confuse those who are trying to hurt you. It may even make them angrier because they know that their behavior hasn’t gotten to you. So this response is not a guaranteed method for defusing the situation. You may end up triggering the other party to harass you even more to try to drag you into a real argument. I have tried this a few times recently and I have to say that it’s much better than wearing your heart on your sleeve so that the world around you sees when you’ve been wounded. I am discovering that I want to move away from angry responses toward something different—wisdom, harmony, balance, peace. I don’t want to let anyone push me off my center; that’s happened often enough earlier in my life. There are some people who find your weak points, and when they do they exploit them if they want you to behave in a certain way. This has happened to me and others I know in work-related situations, but also in personal relationships. It’s easy to hone in on another’s weakness and exploit it if you decide to. But why would you want to if you really care about another person? If you have to go for the jugular each time there is the potential for an argument with another person, then you don’t really care about that person. Or if you always have to be right, or promote yourself at the expense of another, then you don’t really care about the other person at all. I am learning to identify liars, and there are quite a few of them in this life.
So perhaps the best thing when faced with such people is to smile, let go of the insult, and wish them well. After all, they have real problems of their own. But letting go of the insult and the hurt is the tricky part. How fast can a person learn to do that? That is the question and also the key to a more balanced harmonious life. If you give other people the power to control you by holding onto your hurt, you lose, because you use up an incredible amount of energy trying to deal with and retaliate against these people. And they are simply not worth the time or the energy involved.