communication, politics, psychology

We should all listen to each other more…

This morning, I read a headline in the Daily Press, the newspaper that serves the Tidewater area of Virginia, the place where I was born and raised. The headline was about Virginia’s gubernatorial race. This year, Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, will step down as governor, and someone else will take his place. The newspaper was reporting on how the Republican candidate, Glenn Youngkin, “dodged” a question about vaccination, which drew criticism from Democrats.

I know a lot of people hope to see Glenn Youngkin beat the Democrat candidate, former Governor Terry McAuliffe. This is because a lot of people from Virginia don’t like Ralph Northam, or Democrats in general. A lot of people don’t like Mr. McAuliffe, either. I come to this conclusion based on comments I’ve read online, but also because I am from Virginia and I still know a lot of people there. Plenty of folks think Democrats are just plain evil. On the flip side, plenty of people also think Republicans are evil.

Even though Virginia’s political leanings have recently shifted from red to blue, there are still many Republicans in Virginia, particularly in the area where I grew up. And, just as they might choose a favorite sports team, people in Virginia have a tendency to choose sides in politics. I suppose it makes things simpler for them. On the other hand, it also makes our society more divided. I’ve noticed that people will often write off people solely based on their political preferences. There’s little thinking or discussion involved.

I didn’t read the article in the Daily Press about the governor’s race. Doing so would have required turning on my VPN, since the Daily Press, like so many other U.S. based newspapers, has made itself unavailable to readers based in Europe. We have a pesky data privacy law over here with which a lot of American papers can’t be bothered to comply.

I did, however, read some of the comments on the Daily Press article. Someone lamented about how anti-vaxxers were selfish and rebellious. Below is a screenshot.

Good lord! The comment about banning vaccines and masks comes from someone who lives in Tennessee, for Christ’s sakes!

I had to laugh at the guy who called Biden’s administration a “pos” (piece of shit), and wanted to know if the commenter he was responding to would jump off a bridge if Biden asked him to. Did this guy have the same mindset in January 2021, when Trump called on citizens to storm the Capitol? Are most people really like this? Do they really have no ability to think for themselves? I mean, there are some conservative ideas that I can get behind. And there are some liberal ideas that I like. Why does it have to be “either/or”? Why can’t we work together to make policies that suit the majority of people? Are there any moderates left in the world? Or are they all just keeping quiet?

Lots of people are in legal trouble right now because they listened to Donald Trump and “jumped off his bridge”.

I attempted to tell Bill about the comments I was reading, but he suddenly interrupted me with thoughts of his own. Granted, they were thoughts that were on topic, which was a plus. However, it was pretty clear that he hadn’t really been listening to me. A few seconds after I started speaking, he began formulating a response. In doing so, he missed part of my message.

I was immediately annoyed by the interruption and said so. I love Bill very much, but he has a terrible habit of interrupting me when I’m mid sentence. He also has a tendency of speaking to me when I’m engaged in something else, like reading, watching a video, or playing a game. Consequently, I often have to ask him to repeat himself or “hold that thought” until I’m ready to actively listen to him.

I often feel frustrated, because I can’t finish a thought or I get distracted from something on which I’d been concentrating. I have kind of a short attention span, so when people interrupt me, I tend to forget what I was saying. I also grew up in an environment where people didn’t really care what I thought and happily told me so… and in fact, I was labeled “arrogant” when I did express opinions. So, I’m probably even more sensitive to being interrupted than I might otherwise be.

Bill immediately apologized. He knows he has a tendency to interrupt. It’s a habit that gets reinforced in his job, where people are action oriented. He works with a lot of military folks, and they aren’t big on introspection or “soft skills” like listening instead of speaking. There’s a lot of testosterone and posturing that goes on– guys jockeying for leadership. Bill is probably one of the less alpha guys in his office, but he still has this habit of cutting me off when I speak. He doesn’t mean to be rude when he does it. It’s just something he’s learned to do.

It occurred to me that a lot of information and insight gets lost because people are so busy talking over each other. Successful communication depends as much on receiving messages as sending them. If you’re speaking or formulating a response when someone else is speaking, you’re going to miss some of what they say. And whatever you say in response will probably be poorer for it.

After Bill apologized for interrupting me, I said, “What do you think would happen if you consciously made an effort to listen more?”

Bill thought about it for a moment and said, “I’d probably learn more.” Then he told me that listening more carefully was a concept he’d actually talked about with his Jungian therapist.

Then I said, “I challenge you to make an effort to speak less and listen more today. When you’re at work and someone speaks to you, try to make yourself listen carefully to what they say. Do you think you can do that?”

Bill smiled enthusiastically and said, “I can try.”

That’s one thing I like about Bill. He has a really good attitude about most things. He’s slow to take offense and quick to take correction.

I truly am curious about what would happen if people listened more and spoke less. This is a habit so many of us have– myself included. We’re so busy wanting to be heard ourselves that we don’t let others have their say. And then we get offended when they don’t want to listen to us when we want to speak.

It’s not just a problem in conversations, either. It also happens when we read. Here’s an example.

A few days ago, someone in our local pet group posted a comment about heartworm preventative in Germany and asked a question about where to find heartworm treatment for her new dog, who had recently come to Germany from Romania. German vet clinics aren’t like U.S. vets. A lot of the clinics in Germany are just offices, rather than hospitals, where veterinarians can board sick animals. Heartworm treatment generally requires hospitalization. The vet where she took her dog could only test for the infestation; they could not offer treatment, because they don’t have hospital facilities.

I was the first person to respond to the poster. In my first comment to her, I explained that heartworm preventative isn’t widely prescribed in Germany because heartworms aren’t that prevalent here. I wrote that German vets usually only give prescriptions to people if they’re taking their dog to a warmer country. Vets here don’t prescribe heartworm preventative as a matter of course, the way American vets do. More discussion ensued, and we established that she’d need to find a vet with a hospital.

Another commenter came along and tagged me in a comment, “correcting” me for what I’d written about heartworm preventative medication. She wrote that German vets will prescribe preventative if someone is going to a warmer country.

My response was, “Right. I mentioned that.”

I’m sure my response came off as a bit “curt” and “bitchy”, but it always annoys me when someone doesn’t read carefully and then tries to correct another person. If she’d spent more than a few seconds reading more carefully what I’d actually written, she wouldn’t have felt the need to make the point about warmer countries that she’d mistakenly thought I’d missed. Those few seconds spent more attentively reading/listening, could have spared her the few seconds she’d spent “correcting” me, and the few seconds I spent letting her know that the correction wasn’t necessary. It also would have spared us both some irritation.

Why do people do this? I think it’s mainly because of egotism. We want to look smart, accomplished, and helpful. People want to be heard– but they don’t always want to listen. I think Americans, in particular, don’t want to take the time to listen before they respond. They’re always rushing to prepare for things, even though a minute spent listening could spare them five or ten minutes down the road. Time is money, we’re told, so we rush to say something, do something, take action– but so often, if we’d just cooled our jets and shut our mouths, we could have spared ourselves needless grief, time, and money.

Plenty of other commenters came along after I commented on that thread about heartworm treatment in Germany. Many of the people who commented never bothered to read what had already been written. It seems they all assumed they knew better than everyone else who had responded. I ended up turning off notifications for that post. Hopefully, the lady found a vet to help her dog.

This issue of how we don’t listen well came into my head a couple of days ago, when I stumbled across a televised interview of one of the women who wrote Not Without My Sister. The show was aired in Ireland, and proved that some interviewers are terrible listeners.

I found this interview very frustrating to watch.

Notice how the interviewer often doesn’t really let her guest finish her sentences. Part of this may be because of time constraints. Part of it may be because the interviewer is trained to ask questions. But I wonder how much she can be hearing if she’s so busy forming responses and new questions as her guest is trying to answer. As a viewer, it was annoying to watch this interview, because I couldn’t hear all of what the guest was saying.

The above interview isn’t as bad as some, though. I can’t stand watching shows like The View, because there’s a whole group of women talking over each other. It’s hard to get a clear message rather than just noise. I wonder what the point of the show is, if no one can get a word in edgewise, and no one is actually listening to the person who speaks.

Anyway… I hope Bill will remember what we talked about this morning and give my proposal to talk less and listen more a try. I wonder how much more efficient and productive people could be if they’d just stop and listen for a moment. How much information will they get that is not distorted? How much time will be saved because someone didn’t have to repeat themselves? The possibilities are endless.

We really should all listen to each other more. I include myself in that suggestion. I’m going to give it a try. I hope some of you will be inspired to try it, too.

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communication, racism

Getting a grip with the “super woke”…

I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about this morning. My mind was a bit fuzzy after having been awakened at 4:00am by Arran, the barfing beagle. Actually, all he did was retch a bit. He was hungry, so Bill fed him and all was well. I was annoyed, though, because the retching woke me from a pleasant dream. And when I woke up and got out of bed, I wasn’t as “woke” as I could have been. 😉

I started reading The Washington Post, as usual, and sure enough, found myself a topic. It came from an article about Vietnamese tenants in Manhattan who received an official letter from a city worker addressing them as “Chin Chong”. Included with the article was a photo of the correspondence– a window envelope with the words “Chin Chong” visible.

Apparently, this all started when an older White man came to check on the heating and water at Duc Pham’s New York City apartment. Pham said he seemed “polite and professional”, and took down the floor and apartment number but did not ask for names. Last week, Pham’s roommate woke him to show him a follow up letter sent by the city addressed to “CHIN CHONG”. Pham and his roommates are all Vietnamese.

So Pham did what everyone seems to do nowadays when they get offended. He posted the offending correspondence on social media. That action led the city housing authority to issue an apology. Further, an employee was suspended without pay, and the authority has launched an investigation into the matter. Given the recent uptick in racism against Asians in the United States, to include racially based attacks on Asian citizens, scapegoating Asians for the pandemic, and the deadly shootings at three Asian-run spas in the Atlanta area, this case is especially newsworthy and troubling.

Now… when I saw the words “Chin Chong”, I knew they were offensive. But I’m just one person. As I read the comments for this article, I came across one written by a guy named Bruce, who says he’s 67 years old and has never encountered the term “Chin Chong”. He wrote:

I am not trying to start a fight here, but I am 67, I have lived in or near NYC all my life, and I have never heard this phrase, and would not have known what it referred to.

Bruce was immediately taken to task for this comment by a woman named Michele, who wrote:

…you understand that the absence of you never having heard it doesn’t in any way negate it’s existence and the experience of those it’s directed towards? You understand that this statement is an example of minimizing and a microagression, yes? Finally you understand that stating “I am not trying to start a fight” isn’t a blanket excuse to say something so utterly nonsensical in the discussion correct?

A long thread ensued in which they went back and forth with each other. Honestly, I don’t see anything in Bruce’s initial comment that indicates any kind of micro-aggression on his part. Maybe, at most, Bruce’s comment just seems obtuse. Obviously, Pham and his roommates were offended by being called “Chin Chong”. Perhaps Bruce could have Googled the term, rather than asking about it on The Washington Post. I haven’t looked yet, but I’ll bet Urban Dictionary has it defined… Actually, in Urban Dictionary, it’s “Ching Chong”, and it’s described as a pejorative used by English speakers to mock Asian languages, especially Chinese.

Okay… so it was Ting Tong vs. Ching Chong…

I’m 48 years old, at this writing, and I do remember hearing that slur used when I was a kid, both in England and the United States. Most recently, I heard it used on Little Britain, which was a British comedy show that often included skits that were kind of racist. That show aired some time ago– from 2003-07– and I read last year that the creators, Matt Lucas and David Walliams, have said they are “very sorry” for playing characters of other races. However, I don’t remember hearing that term used nearly as often as I have heard other racist epithets that will remain nameless. Moreover, I don’t know Bruce. Maybe he really hasn’t been exposed to that term. His question actually could have been innocent.

Anyway, before I knew it, I had read the whole thread. Below are the screenshots.

I won’t be surprised if someone accuses me of being a racist because I left the last comment. I don’t think what I wrote was racist. I simply don’t think that it’s necessary or helpful to attack people and make negative judgments about their characters simply based on a single comment on a news article. Granted, perhaps Bruce’s original comment was perhaps a bit “tone deaf”, but being tone deaf doesn’t make someone a racist. I gleaned a lot more about Michele from her aggressively “woke” comments than I did about Bruce. I haven’t looked at either of their profiles, but frankly, I would much rather have a conversation with Bruce than Michele, even if what she writes about him is 100 percent true… and I am not convinced that it is.

I know we’re living in challenging times. Racism is a huge problem worldwide, but especially in the United States. I understand that there are people who feel the need to “educate” others about it. A lot of them assume the mantle with gusto and go on full bore flame wars against anyone they perceive to be “insensitive” or unaware. I don’t think there is anything wrong with combatting racism. However, I do think that verbally attacking people– especially people you don’t know– is unhelpful in combatting racism.

Most people don’t like being publicly chastised or condescended to, especially when they truly meant no harm. While Michele obviously interprets Bruce’s comment as minimizing and “micro-aggressive”, to me, she comes off as openly aggressive, hostile, superior, and rude. I wouldn’t want to have a discussion with her, having witnessed that exchange. I think, if Michele’s goal is truly to defend the marginalized, she should change her approach to one that is less threatening.

I’ve mentioned this before in my blog, but I’m going to mention it again. I think there’s great value in the gentler approach. For some reason, Americans haven’t gotten the memo and feel like they have to aggressively denounce anyone who isn’t fully onboard the politically correct bandwagon. So they attack people– often total strangers– who post something that could or could not be construed as “offensive”. It’s one thing if someone posts something that is obviously belittling and nasty. It’s another, when something is only potentially so, and that could only be gauged by non-verbal cues that are simply unavailable in a written sense.

Maybe if Bruce and Michele had been speaking to each other in person, she could have concluded he was being offensive by his mannerisms or tone of voice. Or maybe if they’d had a recurring dialogue online, she could have more correctly gauged whether or not he was minimizing the plight of marginalized people. But I think it’s hard to accurately make those conclusions based entirely on the written words of a perfect stranger one has only encountered once in a lifetime. I didn’t get the sense that Bruce and Michele had ever met prior to that chance encounter on The Washington Post’s Facebook page.

I’ve found that gentle probing is good for finding out someone’s true intentions before you lower the boom on them, so to speak. To further illustrate what I mean, here’s an anecdote from my past. Back in the late 1990s, I attended Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings. I went, mainly because at the time, I was living with my parents and having to deal with my alcoholic dad, with whom I often clashed.

One time, a young, attractive woman who was studying massage therapy came to the meeting with some kind of putty. When it was her turn to speak, she told us about how she was learning how to treat the tough knots that plagued her clients. The putty was used as a training tool in that endeavor. She showed us how, if she attacked the putty aggressively, it wouldn’t yield to her touch. It would be resistant and rigid. But if she gently pressed it, the putty would slowly become more malleable and she could manipulate it with much more ease. She passed the putty around so we could experience it for ourselves. Ever since that presentation, I’ve thought of that lady with the putty whenever I witness someone aggressively attacking another person in a well-meaning attempt to do “good”.

I think this was the stuff she used.

If you want a more cliched idea about effecting change, there’s always that old saying, “You get more flies with honey than vinegar.” If you’re kind, understanding, and trying to see the other person in a good light in your approach, others may be more inclined to listen to you. Most people are normal, and don’t want to be hurtful or cruel to others. If they are not normal, you will eventually find that out if you maintain contact with them. At that point, you can change your approach accordingly. For most online interactions, you probably should consider trying to be somewhat reasonable and understanding… at least at first.

On the other hand, this is also true… And who wants to attract flies anyway, except maybe frogs or spiders?

I highly doubt “Bruce” and the others in that thread who were responding to Michele learned anything new in that exchange, other than Michele is not a very nice person. I also doubt her efforts to make them more “woke” had much of a positive effect on them. Instead of focusing on what she was trying to say– which I assume was well-meaning– they were being defensive and had focused on the aggressive nature of her communication to them. She may have felt better in being so direct and condescending, but I doubt that approach led to anything good. I was uncomfortable and offended reading it, and I wasn’t even part of the conversation until the very end. I forced myself to read the whole thing, but I’ll bet a lot of people chose not to read it. We’ve got enough reasons to be hurt, offended, or irritated these days.

I was glad to see some people defending Bruce in that thread. It’s not that I don’t think his comment was a bit obtuse. It kind of was. I just don’t think launching a full blown nuclear attack against him, posting to him like he’s stupid, and assuming bad things about his character is useful, particularly when all he did was ask a question. There really is a dearth of mutual respect in our society and it’s having a serious effect on freedom of speech as well as mutual understanding. Angrily attacking people just leads to more attacks. It isn’t helpful, and doesn’t teach anyone anything. However, I also understand that people get frustrated and feel the need to vent. I just think it’s better to take out those frustrations in another venue, rather than in a public forum with perfect strangers. (which doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes slip up myself)

As for Pham and his roommates, I am truly sorry that they had that experience with the city worker. I don’t know what it’s like to be Asian American, so I can’t personally relate to what they went through. But I’m willing to hear what they have to say and offer respect and kindness the best way I know how. I think everyone is deserving of at least that level of respect until they show the world that they’re not worthy. For example, Donald Trump has pretty much lost all of my respect, but that’s because he shows so little to anyone else. When it comes down to it, Bruce’s initial comment wasn’t, on its face, offensive. A “woke” stranger assigned a motive to him and attacked him, rather than giving him the benefit of the doubt. A more gentle probe, rather than an aggressive reprimand, would have likely been more effective and educational for everyone. Or, at least that’s my take… but again, I’m only one person.

Standard
complaints, musings

Silencing the critics…

Well hello there, folks. It’s another snowy day here in Wiesbaden. This year, we’re getting a lot more white stuff than we have over the past couple of years. Bill and I now live in a town that is kind of in a valley, so when it does snow, it tends to be light and not hang around for long. When we lived in Jettingen, down near Stuttgart, we would get snow that would hang around for weeks, because we were higher in elevation. I kind of miss the deeper snows. Right now, our backyard is positively sodden with mud.

Now, with the obligatory weather discussion done, on with today’s topic. As you know, if you’ve read my stuff often, I often torture myself with comments on Facebook. I also get comments on my blog posts. I do publish the vast majority of non-spam comments I receive, even if they’re critical. I am a believer in people being able to speak up if they feel inclined to voice an opinion. I do not publish comments that are insulting or abusive, unless I’m turning that comment into a rant… which I feel fine with doing when someone is an asshole. Hey– if you don’t want me to rant about you, be very careful what you post.

One thing I’ve noticed a lot of is that people seem to get very upset when someone takes an opposing or unusual view. For instance, a few days ago, I got a comment from a “stranger”– that is, someone who had never commented on my blog before. This person, name of Judy, felt the need to correct my opinion about Skylar Mack’s punishment in the Cayman Islands. Although her comment was written, and therefore didn’t have an audible tone, per se, I could tell that she felt I was wrong and needed to be put in my place. She seemed to think I should be silenced, perhaps.

Frankly, it seemed to me that Judy’s comment probably came more from an emotional reaction than rational thought. Yes, she seemed angry that Skylar Mack had gone to the Cayman Islands and broke quarantine. As an American, maybe she was embarrassed on Skylar’s behalf. Or maybe she was jealous that Skylar got to travel to “paradise”, but then didn’t have enough respect for the rules. Or maybe she was just virtue signaling; that is, showing everyone what a “good and respectful” person she is by siding with the morality police. There’s nothing wrong with being good and respectful, unless, of course, you’re only doing it “for show”.

I wrote back to Judy. My comment was kind of long and involved, and I doubt Judy ever read it, but Skylar Mack’s case is one I’ve thought about a lot. It’s not so much that I think so highly of her or what she did. It’s more because the public response to her case happens to be a recent one that outlines a problem I’ve noticed lately. It seems like people have become more black and white in their thinking. And a lot of people seem to have lost their capacity for forbearance and mercy. We’re all very quick to turn on each other and become completely unreasonable.

I’ve noticed the same thing on other comment sections, especially on Facebook, but also on news sites. Someone will post a comment that isn’t the status quo, and people will just glom on, often with insults or derision. I can understand doing that when someone is obviously being snarky about a serious topic. However, I’ve also seen people do it when a person has obviously put some thought and effort into their comment and hasn’t been rude. If what the person has written doesn’t follow the common thinking on a topic, he or she will get trounced by others.

I wonder where this comes from. Are we all so afraid of other viewpoints that we have to “silence the critics” who dare to think outside of the box or say something that isn’t the party line? And why, if we feel the need to offer a rebuttal, must it so often be done in a disrespectful, derisive way? Why is it necessary to insult people when they disagree? Especially if you don’t even know the person?

I like to read thoughtful comments. Sometimes, people present perspectives I haven’t considered, or they have knowledge that I don’t have. But so often, intelligent comments on Facebook or news sites are diluted by rudeness or insults or outright spam. That makes me wonder if people ever think beyond their own opinions. Are we just interested in being in echo chambers, confident and comforted that we all agree? Or do people like to learn from others?

Of course, sometimes people attack and shame people online because of nefarious reasons. For example, one of the reasons I moved my blog from Blogger is because I had a persistent “stalker” (for lack of a better word) who was monitoring my posts and stirring up trouble with other people. This person also had the nerve to send me private messages and leave comments on my blog, which she later deleted. Her comments were often in support of what I’d written. But then after I responded to her, she’d remove them, because she no doubt was singing a different tune to the other side. I didn’t confront her about the deletions, but I knew something was off about it. Clearly, she was trying to play both sides and remove proof– classic triangulation.

My theory is that she was doing these things, not so much because she truly believed I was wrong and needed to be “set straight”, but more because she knew I was right and was about to bust her for being the dishonest snake she is. I had figured some things out about her and the person with whom she had shared my posts. I had voiced them on my blog. She didn’t want the other side, with whom she was sharing my posts, to see that she had agreed on some level, nor did she want me to jar the other side into thinking differently about her. For some reason, she valued a relationship with the other side, and she didn’t want to be outed for being a liar. Of course, the other side was just as dishonest as she was, and they both had a lot to gain by forcing Bill and me to literally pay for their shady behavior.

I also realized that she and her accomplice had lied to Bill and me. She thought we were suckers, and probably figured she could pressure us into taking the fall for things she did, while maintaining a facade of innocence. So she’d send me these shaming comments and private messages, hoping I’d be scared into silence.

She may not realize, or even care that what she did was very damaging to me on a personal level. It may not seem like it to everyone who reads my blogs, but I’m a very decent and responsible person. I try to be fair and open to different perspectives on most matters. I tend to think long and hard about most of my opinions, although I can’t say that I don’t sometimes “pop off” when I get upset about something. I can and do change my mind when new information is presented, though, and I am willing to apologize when I get something wrong. I was very upset when she made some damning insinuations about my character, especially since she was totally wrong.

Then, after the dust had settled a bit, I started to think more about what had actually happened. I remembered meeting her in person. I remembered her body language and things she and her husband said, as well as the way her accomplices behaved. I started thinking about all of the interactions we’d had online. And then I realized, she obviously thought I was a sucker and was playing the other side, too. She had recognized me as a kind, understanding, conscientious person, and she thought that giving me negative and shaming feedback would scare me into being quiet. I wonder how she feels now, since it was proven that Bill and I were not the ones who were doing things wrong. She’d just wanted to “silence the critics”, so she could get away with being a completely irresponsible creep.

I was initially hurt by her accusations and attacks. Now, I’m left here still feeling angry, but vindicated. Because in the end, she and her toxic buddy were not successful in what they were trying to do. She picked the wrong person to screw with, if only because Bill and I have had years of experience dealing with dishonest, toxic people like her who lie, cheat, and steal. But I won’t say that the experience wasn’t hurtful for us. We lost about two years of our lives to it. And going through an experience like that can make it much harder to be a “truth teller”.

I realize that the last few paragraphs might seem kind of cryptic. You might blame that on what that person did. She spent several years monitoring me from afar, causing trouble behind the scenes, and finally trying very hard to get us to pay for her dishonesty and duplicity. Maybe others have had similar experiences, and that’s why so many of us are so afraid of views that are disagreeable. Maybe it feels “unsafe” to disagree.

So, when someone posts a comment that is, for example, not 100% in favor of wearing face masks until death, lots of people will feel free to pile on. And they disagree by being insulting, rude, or just flat out disagreeing with no attempt to even consider why the other person came up with a different perspective. If you’re strongly in favor of the status quo, people are less likely to attack you. Right now, face masks are many people’s panacea against COVID-19. If you’re not 100% for them, you must be part of the problem AND you must also support Trumpism. But that’s not really true, is it? Could there be more to that issue than just black or white? I think so.

It doesn’t seem to occur to some people that you can have a respectful and thoughtful discussion with another person. Maybe you won’t change the other person’s mind, but you will have offered some food for thought. I like those kinds of discussions. I’d like to have more of them, especially with thoughtful people who can talk about things without trying to silence the critics..

Standard
psychology

The power of not responding…

Those of you who have been reading my stuff for awhile know that I have a hard time not responding to people. When someone is shitty to me, I always want to say something back to them. It probably comes from a combination of being a natural communicator and my traumatic childhood, being forced to be quiet when someone was abusive to me.

This morning, The New York Times ran an article called “How to Deal With a Jerk Without Being a Jerk“. Written by Adam Grant, this is a story about how to react to people who are abusive and unkind. I’ve noticed that since social media has become the preferred method of communication, people are losing the ability to disagree gracefully and with civility. I am as guilty of that as anyone is, although I probably ruminate more on it than a lot of others do.

Take, for instance, yesterday’s post about that guy who called me out for busting on Donald Trump. I could have just smiled and told him to have a nice day. Instead, I turned his comments into a somewhat indignant post on my blog. I’ve read what I wrote over and over and wonder if that post was worth writing. Do people really want to read my thoughts on these matters? It seems like expressing myself gets me into more trouble than it’s probably worth.

I thought about ignoring the guy when I first saw his comment, but I felt compelled to respond. He took my comment as an “insult” when I wrote that he didn’t have to read my blog if it’s beyond his comprehension. I guess one could take that remark as an insult, but not being able to comprehend something is not necessarily a reflection of a person’s intellect. I’ve got a normal intellect, but I don’t comprehend Swahili or even most German. Doesn’t mean I’m dumb. Likewise, I wasn’t calling that guy “dumb” for not understanding my reasoning or not liking what I had to say. I simply advised him not to read my blog if it’s upsetting to him or “beyond his comprehension”.

I think about listening to my former landlady yell at me in my home as she lobbed accusations and blame at me, and how angry and overwhelmed it made me feel. When I first met her, she seemed nice. But then, when things went wrong, her response was to be verbally aggressive. I don’t respond well to aggression, particularly when it’s in the verbal form. I am saturated by too much verbal abuse from the past, to the point at which I want to respond when people are jerks, even if a response would be wasted time and energy and would only continue the cycle of abuse and negativity.

In his article, Grant writes “sometimes you’re stuck dealing with a certified jerk, someone who consistently demeans and disrespects others.” More than once, I definitely felt disrespected by my ex landlady. She scolded me as if I was a child, and wouldn’t listen to me, which is a surefire way to get on my shit list. It happened enough times that Bill asked her to leave me alone, which clearly upset her.

Mostly because of the disrespectful way the ex landlady communicated with me, I am left feeling angry and wanting to put things right. Somehow, she’s “learned” that yelling at people is the only way to get the results she desires. In this case, she wants us to pay full replacement price for an old awning that she did not have properly repaired. Instead of approaching us respectfully and hearing our side, she’s trying to rip us off by assuming we either don’t know or won’t stick up for our rights. More disrespect. I might have had more empathy for her position if she had been more understanding and less greedy. Now, I just want to verbally rip her head off… and I would love to write her a scathing email of my own. But that wouldn’t fix the problem and it would only beg a continuation of the abuse.

Grant continues, “research on the psychology of certified jerks reveals that they have a habit of rationalizing aggression. They’ve convinced themselves that they have to act that way to get the results they want.” Ex landlady probably feels that the only way to force us to pay for the awning is to shame us and illegally withhold our money. She doesn’t seem to be able to see things from our perspective, which makes me think she’s a jerk. I feel compelled to respond to jerks, but experience has taught me that it’s a losing battle. We did not directly respond to her latest email, although I suppose one could call my posts about this situation a response of sorts. Still, the temptation to respond directly to her lingers. I still compose what I’d like to say to her in my head. I know that saying those things directly would only give her more ammunition, so I keep quiet. Some people might consider that response cowardly. Others can see the wisdom in it.

Everybody has to deal with verbally abusive people at some point in their lives. Bill has had bosses who got off on humiliating him, one of whom was playing mind games with him in a war zone. Bill was married to a woman who walked all over him and treated him with utter disdain while she alienated his children and ran his credit rating into the ground. We lived for four years in a rental house owned by a verbally abusive person, paying her substantial rent every month while enduring her lack of respect for our privacy and inability to speak to us like adults. I grew up being abused and repeatedly humiliated by a man who often didn’t value me, even though he’s responsible for my being here in the first place. All of these interactions take a cumulative toll on a person. You get to a point at which you fell compelled to lash out, even when lashing out isn’t the best course of action.

I like what Grant has to say about dealing with jerks in a peaceful way. If you’re in a situation in which you must gracefully deal with jerks, particularly those who have some kind of power over you, there are two ways to handle it unscathed. “One is to decrease your dependence on [that person]. If you can minimize interaction, they can’t do as much harm. The other is to increase [that person’s] dependence on you. If they need you, they’re less likely to treat you like dirt.” If those measures fail, you can look at the situation philosophically. Grant quotes organizational psychologist, Bob Sutton, who advises, “Pretend you’re a specialist in jerks, and think about how you’re ‘really lucky to see this spectacular, amazing specimen.'” That approach probably wouldn’t do much more for me than help me crack a wry smile.

I am a natural communicator. I love writing down my thoughts. It helps me process things without causing a lot of damage. Some of what I write isn’t pleasant. Some of it is hostile and rude. I still try to be respectful when I respond to other people, at least initially. I find that when I’m not, it turns into an argument that causes me to stew for long periods of time… weeks, even. I know that sometimes my responses aren’t particularly “healthy”. I also know that there is discipline and wisdom in not responding… at least not right away. There’s an art to not being a doormat. Bill is learning how to be assertive without being aggressive. I still have a way to go in that department, although I’m trying. Taking the time to chill out and respond constructively can help one deescalate abusive situations rather than stoke them.

Incidentally, most of the comments on this article are about the controversial image used. For some reason, the powers that be at The New York Times decided to use a picture of a dog with a bandage wrapped around its muzzle. For me, the image works, but only because it’s not a real dog being pictured. Other people think it promotes animal cruelty and seem a bit triggered. Naturally, some of the comments are coming from jerks.

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