How does one respond to insults…

How does one react when you, someone you love or values you hold very dear are belittled, undermined, insulted, in short treated with contempt and/or dismissal? Granted, different situations and personalities will require different responses from you. Circumstance is a strong influencer (ie on the job, with a loved one vs a stranger and so on) as will be our own personalities. Some of us are more combative, as my cousin once said following a racist insult in which I encouraged we ignore, “if they throw xaar(shit) at me, I will throw xaar (shit) back at them.” And she did just that. Traded insults for insults.

Although I understand the human need to defend one’s honor after being insulted and I am a strong believer in standing up for yourself (and others), I just have never been capable of trading insults or screams.

When one’s personhood is insulted, the natural human reaction is to insult back. If they belittle your race, religion, or country then to make sure they don’t get one over you, you belittle their race, religion, or country. From my experience that seems to be the predominate path most people take.

I was reminded of this after watching the interview with CNN anchor, Anderson Cooper, in which he responded to Star Jones allegations that he publically revealed his sexuality to boost ratings. After dismissing those allegations as outrageous, he went further to discredit Star Jones personhood. He mentioned how she, not him was obsessed with the limelight, pointing out her gastric bypass surgery and wedding. And how Star Jones was practically a “nobody” now. Even though it is not my style, I can’t say I blame Anderson for defending himself and pointing out the hypocrisy of his criticizer.

How else can you defend yourself against lies/hypocrisy, but criticize those who criticize you? The other path to take is just defend yourself, without taking that additional step to belittle the other person. If it doesn’t end there (and often it doesn’t, because it is seen as being weak, which encourages more criticism) then simply keep silent and separate yourself. I have personally always struggled with which method (s) to employ. I don’t believe in being made a fool of and I hate hypocrisy, but I also regard respect in the highest esteem.

When I was around five, my aunt had admonished me severally for spilling juice and breaking a vase during the same night, in which I stayed with her. I was so devastated by her yelling that I left her home in the middle of the night and went to the park to sleep. I didn’t know what I was doing or what I had got myself into. I don’t even know how the dangerous idea entered my little mind and where I found the courage to carry it out. I just felt humiliated and fled. That incident shook my parents so much, that they never left me with anyone ever again until I was much older. Although of course I am more rational and wouldn’t make such dangerous choices, that nature of mine, in which I have to flee yelling and disrespect I still carry. Even friendly sarcasm that belittles rubs me the wrong way. I am very sensitive when it comes to respect and when I feel like I don’t receive it, something happens to me emotionally. It is like I shut down, especially if it is coming from someone who is important to me. Because I don’t like it for myself, I am incapable of practicing it on anyone else. (This is also makes me think of romantic relationships and how I would perform since I hate conflict/arguments etc. Would I flee after a fight? I have never been tested and it is something I think about. There is a Somali saying, which states there is nothing closer in the world than teeth and the tongue and sometimes they too bite. I find this saying very profound.)

When a person is angry or insulting you then there is little room to reason with them so why bother and waste your energy or worse escalate a situation? And when you have the platform to get back at them it just seems wrong and egoistic to point out their shortcomings. I am specifically speaking about personal feuds like the one that occurred between Anderson and Jones, and not social/political arguments. I am fully on board with the Islamic ethics of not publically belittling someone’s personhood and if you have something to say to them than share it with them in private and with respect even if they have not given you the same courtesy. This can be something as small as telling someone they are late for a meeting and it applies to children as well, because they too feel humiliation.

Of course there are times when the hypocrisy is so blatant as in Anderson’s case that is hard not to retaliate, but couldn’t one just as easily have said you are wrong and here is why, without dragging the other person in the mud? I think most of us call that being the bigger person. I know it can be hard to follow sometimes though.

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