Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash: Pick Two (aghrivaine) wrote,
Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash: Pick Two

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Anger or hurt?

I had one of those sleepless episodes last night - I had trouble falling asleep at all, and then I woke up later, feeling like I'd slept fitfully and gotten up earily. Blearily I hauled myself out of bed, figuring I'd make the best of it, and maybe go boogie-boarding down on the beach or something. With growing horror, I realized the clock said "3:30" not ..say, "5:30". Way too early to just stay up. So I climbed back in bed, and tried to calm my thoughts. When this happens, I try meditating, prayer, or just carefully following some train of thought - and combinations of the three, until I settle into a sleepy rythym.

So other than mulling over yet another portentous, weird dream. (In which I was a living harbinger of Spring, and had to activate the changing of the seasons by engaging in the sorts of rites with other harbingers about which gentlemen do not publically speak.) One of the thoughts I mulled over was the appropriate response to verbal aggression by others. It came about because I recognize and regret that I've inherited my grandmother's sort of nasty sense of humor. I find it all too easy to make a cutting joke at someone else's expense. In some cases it's appropriate, particularly amongst men - yagathai can attest to some vigorous "hate crime time" down at the shore, for instance. But for the most part, even if one gets a laugh when making cruel jokes, and even if the victim laughs along - someone gets hurt. I try and repress this urge as much as possible and be as positive as possible. It's something I contend with, but I think I've mostly mastered it, except when I'm tired or bitchy. But I also unfortunately inherited my grandmother's thin skin - receiving those cuts always hurts. I know all too well how it feels to be the one that a group is laughing at, and having to figure out how best to respond, even while feeling the sting of the cut.

I've always, when trying to convey that such insult-humor has gone too far, chosen to appeal to the conscience and compassion of my attacker, and been hurt, rather than angry. But now I question the usefulness of that. I imagine that, when confronted with an actual human being in pain, most people will refrain from further attack. However, it's a losing strategy when the person in question has already demonstrated their callousness by making casual insults in the first place.

But let me put a specific example to make clear what I am talking about. Imagine that you are at one of those dopey team-building outings that all of us corporate types are from time to time subjected to. Now imagine that everyone has to sit in a circle, and say something nice about each person in turn - and the compliment has to start with the first letter of their name. So, Sam might be, going around the circle "Suave, slick, smart, super, self-confident, strong..." etc. And then when it comes your turn, one of your coworkers breaks the chain of "Dashing, deep, daring, death-defying" with say, "Dumbass". Everyone laughs, especially in the insultor - with a cruel smile. (Note: this did not actually happen, thank you.) What's happening here is easy to see; the insultor is establishing a higher place in the pecking order than you by cutting you down; but masking it with humor so it's not seen as the assault that, in fact, it is. Because humans are basically a lot like chimps, they find it easier to pile on the weak one and suck up to the strong one - so the group will generally laugh along with the attacker, rather than defend the attacked. How do you respond - hurt, or angry?

Here's what I think - or at least, what percolated through while I was sleepless last night. But I'm interested in hearing your viewpoints, too. I think if you respond by being hurt, you're making a doomed attempt to connect with the compassion of someone who, as I said above, obviously doesnt' have much. Too, you're not liable to get much sympathy from the group, since they've already picked a side by laughing along, and are thus emotionally invested in seeing themselves as just being good sports, rather than complicit in bullying. On the other hand, if you react with anger - not over the top or violent, but instead.. maybe narrow your eyes, stare the person down, and say, "Don't talk to me like that." - and say it like you mean it. The mood changes - the bid for dominance fails. People stop laughing - they realize you're not the butt of a joke but to be taken seriously. More importantly, the person making the insult will probably not repeat the incident in the future.

Even if you accept that dealing with people with anger is not skillful (and generally, I do) - it still seems beneficial to cut that sort of mean-spirited insults off at the source. Let it happen once, and it will happen again... each time causing hurt, each time losing status. Cut it off at the source though, and there are fewer incidents of cruelty, which is preferable for both the insulter and insulted. That's what I thought last night, anyway - I'm interested to hear what you think.

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