On this blog, I have often discussed various reasons why someone might throw insults at you, and, depending on the reason, how to maturely deal with these challenging experiences (see for example, INSULTS: A COMIC STRIP LOVER’S GUIDE). If John is throwing an insult at you because he is in a bad mood, just asking in a concern manner, “Is everything OK, John, you sound like something is bothering you?” might be a useful way to begin to respectfully deal with this type of situation. You might want to respond differently, however, if you see that John is insulting you because he hopes it will encourage you to make a change he thinks you need to make. In this type of situation, beginning your response by initially ignoring the insult and instead summarizing his concern could be more helpful than asking if everything is OK or making a big thing about the insult.
In earlier posts, we have discussed eight different reasons why people throw insults at others, and mature responses to deal with each of these situations. Today let’s focus on some ways to deal with situations in which you might find yourself being insulted by those in a group because they view you as a non-group member.
Putting Down Non-group Members
Many people have a desire to join together in a common cause. This can dramatically increase their own personal power. And it is one of the big reasons why playing a game like baseball can be so much fun. Hit a homer or even a ground ball that brings in the winning run, and your group is patting you on the back and cheering.
When immature people join together, however, because of their lack of empathy, they often join together to put down and humiliate non-group members–particularly if the non-group members are a minority or viewed as too powerless to defend themselves.
Sometimes we see this sort of behavior occur when a new girl starts a new school.
When someone faces these types of difficult situations, what is a respectable way to respond? No single blog post can fully answer this question, but I would like to throw out some ideas for your consideration. Let’s begin with a parable.
The Parable of Jason and Ron
As you look at the four pictures of this parable, let me add some details. When Jason says, “I’m sorry you feel that way, Ron,” he looks squarely into Ron’s eyes. Then he gives Ron a slight nod of his head and goes on his way. Throughout the interaction between Jason and Ron, Jason remains friendly, while at the same time, self-assured.
When I was in school, one day I noticed a boy handle a similar situation like Jason. The other students seemed to respect how the boy handled the teasing. So I began to rehearse this style in front of a mirror over the course of a few days. The next time one of the older students teased me, I gave it a try. It ended up working just fine.
The “Give The Teasers What They Want” Approach
Now I understand that the approach described in “The Jason and Ron Parable” might not work perfectly in every situation. Acting self-assured might actually increase the desire by group members to prove that they are powerful and the person being insulted is nothing but a pile of trash. To try to prove this, they might insult you even worse than if you said nothing, or they might even physically attack you. Because of this risk, many people faced with insults from a larger, more powerful group choose to give the teasers what they want–to feel they are more powerful than others. People using this approach, when faced by these teasers, keep their eyes down toward the ground, and try to walk away as quickly as they can without saying anything. In this way, they don’t challenge the teasers sense of power in any way.
I’ve seen people use the “Give the Teasers What They Want” approach and it sometimes works to a certain degree. The immature group members, with their lack of empathy toward others, after saying a few mean things, let the teased person walk by, and there is no more of these incidences. The group members feel that they had a little fun and the teased person gets away without any physical harm. His or her feelings might feel hurt, but this passes before too long.
I must admit that I used this approach a few times when I was young. It bothered me that I didn’t stand up for myself in a more “manly” manner, but at the same time I was glad that I got home safe.
The “Physical Attack” Approach
Now in contrast to the approach used in the “Jason and Ron Parable” and the “Give The Teasers What They Want” approach, some people have made the case that if anyone insults you, the only proper way to deal with this is to start swinging with everything you got. It doesn’t matter if you end up getting ganged up, beaten severely, or evenbeing killed, you must physically attack to maintain your dignity. Consider Mike’s story.
One day, I received a comment on my blog by a young man who recalled an incident that he had had when he was a new kid at school. “On the school bus,” he wrote, “I began to get picked on. I was not the kind of mature kid who ignored the situation and so I ended up getting into fights as a result. I’d like to preface my next statement with the following–I am not condoning fighting and do not recommend fighting as a solution to any type of verbal altercation. That being said, after showing the bullies that I’d stand up for myself, not only did the bullying come to an abrupt end, but I ended up becoming friends with several of them and seemed to garner the respect of many of the other kids on the bus. Again I’m not condoning fighting but am suggesting that in some cases a show of strength can be an effective way to resolve conflict.”
Here’s how I responded to Mike:
You are absolutely right. In some situations a kid who starts to get picked on will physically go at those doing the tormenting. The tormentors end up backing down, others end up respecting the kid who shut the tormentors up, and the kid even ends up making friends with the tormentors. This is a real possibility. Now, let’s consider other possibilities of a kid physically going at his tormentors so all of us can make an informed decision about how best to handle these types of situations.
In one case that I’m familiar with, a boy that we will call Cal, went to his dad and complained in a choked up voice of a bully picking on him on the bus. The dad, having had a very similar experience when he was young that you had, Mike, began to holler at his son. “If someone picks on you, you go at him with everything you have and that will shut him up. That’s how I handled that type of situation and it worked every time. I can’t believe you didn’t do that. Here you are crying over it. I’m ashamed of you!”
What the dad didn’t know at the time was that Cal had already witnessed another kid on the bus who was bigger and stronger than him try to do just what his dad had said to do. The bully quickly grabbed the arm of this kid, twisted it behind his back until it was excruciatingly painful. After the kid tried his best to get free, the twisted arm was twisted tighter and the kid let out a scream. The bus driver yelled to quiet down. The bully then loosened his grip on the kid, slapped him on the side of his face, and said, “If you ever start in with me again, I’ll catch you after school and you’ll really be sorry.”
Cal, seeing this happen to someone he knew was stronger than he is, became increasing depressed and when he began to talk about killing himself, he ended up in my office. Before long he blurted out all that he was going through.
Now, here’s another possible outcome of a kid going physically at bullies. The kid ends up winning the fight, or at least does enough harm to the bullies, that they settle down for the remainder of the trip. But the bullies belong to a gang, and having embarrassed the bullies on the bus, the gang decides to get revenge. The kid gets attacked and ends up with serious injuries, or even dead.
Or the bullies, seeing that they can’t get the kid to kowtow to them, end up working up their fury until they begin to get revenge by doing some things behind the kid’s back. The kid discovers his backpack has been slashed and in the crowd that is looking on, he sees the bullies smirking. Then the kid’s bike is stolen. Again the bullies have smirks on their faces. The kid tries to get even, the conflict escalates, and before long someone gets knifed or a gun explodes.
These are just some of the other outcomes that have occurred when someone has decided to physically attack bullies. Each person has to consider the situation and decide what is right.
Since writing the above reply to Mike, I read Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling book, Outliers. In one of his chapters, I learned that communities that have a higher than average percentage of people who hold the attitude that the only way to deal with people being disrespectful to you is to physically attack them tend to have higher than average murder rates. Is that the type of community you wish to live in. Some of the bullets that fly by in those communities end up striking people who are not even involved in the anger arousing situation, including children. And so, I think people should think seriously about this issue.
Making a choice between which type of approach to use in any given situation requires some deep thought. I hope this post gives you some useful material as you go about deciding for yourself what makes the best sense.
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.