by Kenneth Harper Finton
The definition of a verbal insult is to disparage and speak with abuse and disrespect. People in the public eye are often insulted. You write song and you can be sure there will be those who doe not like it. You paint a picture and you can be sure some call it terrible. You write an article and someone calls you a hack. Receiving insults are part of being known by your peers. The adage is that we must develop ‘thick skin’ so that we remain unaffected by verbal and indirect defamations.
There are many ways to deal with insults and disparaging remarks. Some work better than others. Anger is probably the worst way to deal with an insulting person. It shows the insulter that we take them seriously and suggests that there is some truth to the insult.
When we are insulted, we are forced to judge the person doing the insulting. Do they have a valid point? Is their remark worth a retort? Is the insult really a statement of fact that we can learn from?
The first reaction to being insulted is to return it. This is the famous “put down” approach. The problem with this is that we must be very clever to do this. There is a problem with this approach in that is tends to raise the insulter to higher level and can add credence to the accusation. Very clever minds can come up with wonderful retorts. Winston Churchill, for example, said to a woman who called him a drunk said: “I may be drunk, Miss, but in the morning I will be sober and you will still be ugly.”
“Put down” reactions are best made with humor and among friends. Few of us have the ability to be so clever as this in an instant. Dorothy Parker was an exception. When a drunk told her that he could not bear fools, she replied: “Apparently your mother could.”
As we can see, humor is possibly the most effective retort to an insult. It not only mitigates the seriousness of the situation, but mocks the insulter. If there is an audience, they are brought to your side, not the side of the disparager.
Those who are not so quick might find that ignoring the insult might be the best remedy. The down side there is that when someone throws mud at you, some of it is going to stick. Ignoring an insult is also likely to show that you are not in control any longer. This turning of the other cheek might me the Christian approach, but repeatedly ignoring a barrage of insults is harmful to your self-esteem. “Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” does not rid the world or your persona of evil. It might be better to study a few clever retorts and have them at your fingertips.
Most people who bully and throw insults do so out of personal insecurity. They are trying to cover up their own inadequacies. Developing ways to point that out is a good defense. If someone calls you a fat pig, you can say, “I love pigs. Don’t you think bacon is the greatest.”
If you chose to say nothing at all, you can walk away freely and say, “You have crossed the line and I have nothing more to say.”
Deepak Chopra has it right. You cannot go through life and not be insulted. The pain caused by insults are symptoms of a more universal human condition. In the social hierarchy where people have the need to be among people, insults will surely result. Wolves and other predators fight to establish an order for their pack. Humans more often use words. As children we are taught that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”
Unfortunately, that is not so. Words do hurt. We are naturally wired to seek social acceptance and we feel good when we get it. A jibe from a good friend might not hurt us, but we feel we lose status when strangers do the same.
It all comes down to not taking ourselves and the world so seriously. When we do, we feel bad and get depressed. It is better to listen, evaluate what we hear and see if there is any truth to the mud that is slung at is. Those who speak bullshit will always have a trace of it on their lips.