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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.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 6th, 2007 06:49 pm (UTC)
I try to respond with cool self-assertion. In the scenario you describe, I wouldn't get hurt or angry. I'd very calmly say something like, "I don't appreciate that humor and I don't find it funny."

Mostly because I don't want the person to see that they've managed to affect me. Then again, detachment is something I'm good at.
Apr. 6th, 2007 07:25 pm (UTC)
i agree with the above -- staying calm and showing as little reaction as possible is ideal. not ignoring it, but not showing anger OR hurt. just calmly stating "i don't find that particularly funny," and moving on.

there was one time on IRC (not surprisingly) where there was some kind of conversation about the end of the world, and joking about plagues and nuclear holocausts and so forth, and some guy made a crack about hoping the plague was selective -- something about it killing off all the women over 140 lbs. needless to say, i was a little pissed about that, but i just said "[guy], seeing as how i'm one of those women over 140 lbs, i take offense at that," and he shut the hell up.

generally if you call people out on shit like that in a relatively mild and reasonable tone -- just, "hey, not funny," or "not appropriate," or whatever the case may be -- shame will kick in enough to shut them up. people generally know when they're being assholes; they just normally ignore their consciences b/c the need for crowd approval is louder.
Apr. 6th, 2007 11:08 pm (UTC)
I totally disagree.

'I don't find that very funny' Are you kidding? That indicates to the enemy that they have scored a home run, fool! That's some twitchy, humorless Womyn's reaction to a sexist joke at work. Always having the uglier comeback is the way to go. cut their bellies open, and watch 'em bleed.

LastMehina - As First Lady of the House Of James, I'd think you would have figured that out by now! He is the Ninja-Master of that shit. This is why I bow to him.
Apr. 6th, 2007 11:09 pm (UTC)
In that instance the best to respond is with a simple, "Your mom." OK, just kidding.

I don't think reacting with anger or hurt is productive. In fact, in most cases I don't find that responding cooly with something like, "I don't find that funny" is particularly effective either--that usually just results in people thinking you are uptight.

In that situation, I'd probably laugh along with the rest of everyone and plot a way to get the upperhand later.
Apr. 7th, 2007 12:24 am (UTC)
You know, in my experience what works best in these situations is neither hurt nor angry. Angry, for one thing, doesn't kill the bid for dominance - it just takes it to the next level. It depends on how the person reacts to your anger. They could just mock you for being overly sensitive and not having a sense of humor, for example, and the group would likely continue to side with them.

What I find works best is either indifference (feigned or real) - chose to ignore their bid for dominance. This is hard to do depending on the situation, but the gist is to just convey the impression that the the attitude of the 'attacker' is of so little consequence to you that you aren't even going to acknowledge it - they can make a bid for dominance but they are so far beneath you that they aren't even really in the same game. I have pulled this off, but it is 100% about attitude.

The other way to do this is with disdain - the witty retort. "My, aren't you just the soul of wit! :V" This points out what is being done to the compliant audience, and rejects it without drawing explicit attention or completely changing the tone of the encounter - other people can change sides and laugh with you instead. People are sheep! This is also hard to do because you have to be able to do it without sounding defensive.

Anyway, I'm mostly apathetic and non-confrontational enough not to really care when people pull this shit with me. On the other hand, they mostly don't do it...
Apr. 7th, 2007 05:20 am (UTC)
For me when I've heard a joke that is somewhat offensive, I've responded with, "Okay, now that's just wrong."

It's simple, honest, to the point, and casual enough that the joke teller gets the point without feeling irked. It's also nice because it's indirectly signaling that he should stop.

Sometimes that reaction will provoke more of the same humor at which point I will say, "Okay, you can stop now." If it's too much, I will say, "Please stop."

Beyond that, I will not make a scene (if I can help it) and walk away.
Apr. 7th, 2007 08:18 am (UTC)
You can pretty much rip into me whenever you need to blow off some steam, after all what else are friends good for? :)
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )


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