GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE’S USE OF INSULTS
In earlier posts on this blog I have advocated that it can be helpful to become familiar with five levels of maturity for responding to negative criticism and five levels of maturity for providing negative criticism (see for example Providing Negative Criticism: Five Levels of Maturity). In those posts, I have contended that when responding or providing negative criticism the use of insults tends to lower your level of maturity. Moreover, people who are less mature tend to be less liked and respected.
If the arguments that I have made in those earlier posts are accurate, how then can I explain the successful career that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has had? Here is a man who is well known to use insults when he is criticized and when he is criticizing others. Here is a man who likes to characterize his use of insults as his way of being “blunt and direct” even though a person can surely be blunt and direct without seeking to insult people. Here is a man who has managed to get himself elected as a county legislator in New Jersey’s Morris County, appointed as United States Attorney for New Jersey, elected Governor of New Jersey twice, and viewed as one of the front runners for the next U.S. presidential election. Here is a man that many people have come to admire.
By addressing this apparent paradox between my proposed levels of maturity and the success of Gov. Christie, readers will have an opportunity to come to a more refined, precise understanding of how to utilize the levels of maturity as a guide for dealing with interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships.
Explaining the Paradox
First of all, as I have explained in earlier posts, the five levels of maturity for responding or providing negative criticism are most relevant to your interpersonal relationships and your intrapersonal relationships. As I define these terms, your interpersonal relationships are your interactions with people with whom you have direct, face to face interactions on an ongoing basis; your intrapersonal relationships involve interactions that you have with yourself.
The relationship that Gov. Christie has with his voters is best viewed as an intergroup relationship, rather than either an interpersonal or intrapersonal relationship. This intergroup relationship involves the group of people who might potentially vote for him, the group of people who have a vested interest in getting the governor elected, and the groups of people who are working to get someone else elected. Although the five levels of maturity are relevant in intergroup relationships, other issues often become more important.
In an interpersonal relationship, if you attempt to insult the person whom you are interacting with, that person might insult you back and the interaction can escalate into violence. When we see Gov. Christie seeking to insult someone, he almost always has a group of supporters standing behind him and a team of armed security personnel well trained to intervene if an insulted party makes any moves at all that can be viewed as violent. Under this set of circumstances, it is far safer to play the part of a tough guy who doesn’t take any crap from anyone than if you, personally, seek to insult someone with whom you have an interpersonal relationship.
Here’s another difference between what typically happens during your interpersonal relationships and the intergroup interactions that involve the governor. When someone directly seeks to insult you, unless you are well trained in handling this in a peaceful manner, you are likely to take the insult personally. The emotions that arise in this situation are more likely to be stronger than if you see on TV, or in a large arena, the governor throwing insults at someone you are not likely to personally know.
The governor, moreover, is not seeking to develop a sound interpersonal relationship with you. He is, instead, seeking your vote. He knows very well that not everyone is going to vote for him. If he angers 49 percent of voters, but 51 percent end up voting for him, he’s achieved his goal. In the last election, the governor managed to get 60% of the vote and not only did this mean that he was reelected, but the media repeatedly described his win as a landslide victory. This victory meant that 40% of the voters voted for someone else. Now, when it comes to interpersonal relationships, if you act in a manner that leads to 4 people out of 10 not liking you, this can lead to far more direct problems for you then if 4 out of 10 people don’t vote for you in a statewide election. Those who don’t like you can begin to say things behind your back to people who actually personally interact with you. Some of what get says can be untrue and very unfair. You may find that when people that you like have parties, you no longer get invited. When you used to be invited to go bowling, now someone else is getting invited. These types of consequences have far more direct effects on your personal life than anything that is likely to happen as a result of a New Jersey election.
When people decide on who to vote for, they consider many issues, not just whether or not the candidate insults anyone. When Gov. Christie insults someone, many voters are apt to say to themselves, he isn’t doing anything different than all the other politicians. They therefore decide to choose a candidate based on other issues. If some voters recognize that Governor Christie insults others a bit more than other candidates, they may feel that his stand on keeping taxes low is a far more important issue for them.
Gov. Christie’s popularity, in my opinion, is largely based on his positions on the issues and, indeed, on some of his personal characteristics. Although the media plays up, and repeatedly show instances in which he insults people, if you really follow his career, you find that the vast majority of the time he conducts himself in a manner very consistent with the highest levels of maturity. When someone criticizes him, most often he listens without getting defensive, clearly shows that he understands the criticism, and when he agrees with the criticism, he says so. When he disagrees, in a warm and friendly style he very articulately explains why he disagrees. People who have not made up their minds on a particular issue have an opportunity to see his take on the issue and a significant amount of undecided voters end up becoming convinced that the governor’s position is correct.
Gov. Christie has demonstrated that he knows how, when he is criticized or when he criticizes others, to act in the most mature manner. When he does choose to throw an insult at someone, in the vast majority of cases he is very careful to do so when it is unlikely to harm him politically. You can be sure that when he was the United States Attorney for New Jersey, any time he disagreed with one of the judges involved in a case he was working on he never chose to directly insult the judge. If he had, his career would have taken a tailspin.
The governor knows full well that there are voters in New Jersey who will never vote for him no matter what he says. And so, when he chooses to insult someone, it is almost always directed at that group of people or the positions that they tend to believe in. By doing so, his supporters come to see him as a leader who will be a strong defender of the positions they hold dear.
In recent events involving some lane closings on the George Washington Bridge into New York City that created gridlock traffic in Fort Lee, New Jersey, Gov. Christie began to use his style of insults in a very different manner than I had become accustomed to, and it has landed him in a heap of trouble. The lane closings appeared to some reporters as a “get back” strategy designed to punish someone who didn’t support Gov. Christie in his latest run for reelection. When questioned about this, the governor became sarcastic, and he sought to insult the questioners, saying they were “obsessing” over a minor issue, and claiming that the questioners must “having nothing else to do.”
This incident does demonstrate that using the most mature levels of dealing with criticism can be important even in the political arena. If the governor, when he was being criticized for how he was handling the bridge lane closings incident, instead of responding with insults, replied in a manner consistent with a 4 or 5 level of maturity, his response would have looked something like this:
“I understand your concern. Those lane closings led to thousands of people being inconvenienced for several days. If it was one of my kids who ended up missing two hours of school for no apparent good reason, I would have been very upset, and as someone who cares about my fellow New Jersey citizens, I am very upset. Making this situation worse was that police and ambulances had difficulty getting to where they were needed. This is a very serious issue, and I am bound and determined to get to the bottom of what happened.”
Such a response would have shown the questioner and all that listened in that he shared their concerns and had empathy for those who were involved in the mess. Because of his more immature responses, a few days ago, after it became more and more apparent that his administration was indeed involved in a “get back” scheme, the governor had to apologize for his insulting actions. In his nearly two hours of addressing the criticism in a national televised press hearing, the governor did not even once attempt to insult those who were publicly criticizing him as they asked their questions. Instead, the governor modeled the most mature levels of responding to criticism. Will it be enough to overcome all that he created when he responded at the lowest levels? We’ll have to wait and see.
Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE