Learning to Ignore Insults
Continued from yesterday's blog about the history of insults.
A Whole New Level
Today, insults and bullying are just as prevalent as ever. If you need proof, bump into another person at the grocery store with your cart or pull out in front of somebody on the road. Better yet, hop on Facebook! We have become so adept at insulting each other that we don’t even need face-to-face confrontation to do it. We simply take advantage of social media, email, text, and every other technology at our disposal to communicate negative thoughts.
You might be tempted to blame increasingly offensive behavior on a general disregard for life, in that we have not one ounce of sympathy or empathy for others. Their plights or idiosyncrasies go largely unnoticed, except that they provide us with ammunition to fire further insults. But the truth is that a lack of concern for neighbors and peers is nothing new. Slaves in Ancient Rome were used in gladiator fights for the entertainment of masses, while Inca skeletons show evidence of injury inflicted postmortem by Spanish warlords.
Why are insults now blatantly directed to all people and in all manner of grievous phrases? Even after efforts to combat and minimize their effects? Even after people have acknowledged their demoralizing affects?
It could be the growing desire to be heard. People everywhere are clamoring for the same educational opportunities, jobs, and attention. The only way to get what they want is to raise their voices, and our society is not accustomed to free-flowing words of praise. Phrases like “great job” and “well done” are typically reserved for the victors of competitions because we are such a highly competitive society. Our aggressive natures are pushed full-throttle as workplace and school contests urge us to oust others by being faster, stronger, smarter, and better-looking.
So, on one hand we have people who simply want to be heard. Spouting sonnets probably won’t help them achieve that, so they are reduced to hurling insults. But behind the longing to be heard is an even more pronounced craving: to be socially accepted. Within each social structure is a higher tier that many of us want to leap into. A subordinate at work wants to be a manager just as a casual pedestrian wants to be a socialite. We use insults to retain our current social statuses and also to try to climb higher. If we can verbally assault someone else and make ourselves look a little better, we might just get the necessary oomph to progress into the next tier.
Think about an insult for a moment and why it stings. A jibe from a friend usually doesn’t bring much pain, because it doesn’t equate with a loss of position. But an insult or a dismissal from someone with greater power and/or influence can be a huge blow. This is where the social hierarchy can be at its most devastating.
You can break free of this exhaustive game by stepping away from the idea of classes and structures. Never in the history of insults have these words achieved anything for anybody, except for the likes of Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln. Their witty retorts have earned them their rightful spots in history, but today politicians who sling mud on their opponents can lose entire races with just a few misplaced words. Insults are cheap and underhanded ways to take attention from our own shortcomings.
In addition to changing your frame of mind so you’re no longer worried about the social hierarchy, try laughing the next time somebody insults you. Imagine that person’s response when they come out firing with all guns loaded and all you do is laugh. This will keep you from engaging in a war of the words and also give perspective. After all, an insult is nothing more than another person’s attempt to step out of one social tier and into another. Keep that person in his place by responding with a smile.