August 5, 2011

The 'Gift' of Gab

Yesterday a wasp entered my room.
The orange kinds that are bitter and like stinging people because they are sadistic and mean.

This one saw that he was no match for me, my tireless screaming and the wooden chair I was waving around at it.
So he decided to leave.

He tried to escape through the shut window.
Wasps may be sadistic and mean and everything, but they aren't very sharp.
So he spent the better part of an hour hitting his head against the glass.
When he got tired, he caught his breath and then tried again.

At some point, I put my chair down and started watching the little sucker.
With every bump against the glass, my hatred for the creature dissolved and was replaced by pity.
Maybe they weren't completely sadistic.
Maybe they were given orders to sting people without provocation and he had to follow orders.
Maybe he had decided he had had enough and wanted to go home and quit 'Sadistic Wasp Squad Inc.'

I wanted to help him but I knew every step I took towards him, he's going to misconstrue as an attack. And he'd sting me in self-defense.
No, I haven't specialized in wasp psychology but that's what I would do if a giant stepped towards me.
And if I had a sting.

So I watched helplessly.
His strength waning with every bump against the glass.
I thought of his family, his wife and kids waiting for him to come home.

If only I could tell him somehow- ask him to not sting me while I opened the window for him. If only I could show him an alternative route.

'Why God? Why didn't you allow us to talk to animals?!? We'd be able to help each other out. And the world would be so much more peaceful… '

Pat came the reply:

'You humans haven't been able to attain "World Peace" in the last like gazillion years despite being able to talk to each other, what makes you think adding animals into the whole big mess is going to do any good?!?
You just concentrate on not killing each other, I'll take care of the animals.
Thank you very much.
Stupid Hippie.'
Aggression warranted.
Point taken.

I never though of it that way.
It's so true though.
Most of the problems everyone experiences is because they don't get along with other people. Disagreements, arguments, spats, conflicts… all because of what?!?! The 'gift' of communication.

How dare she say that to me?
Why did he just say that?
He could have been more sensitive and said it differently, you know?
Did you hear her tone? Who does she think she is?
I'm gonna make him take his words back.
She talks before she thinks and puts her foot in her mouth. That's the problem.

I just read about the Tower of Babel.
Basically the story starts at that point in time when everyone spoke the same language. Right after the great big flood of Noah, apparently the people of the world united in this place called Shinar and decided to build a great big building- the Tower- where everyone could live together.  So they worked together and built this awesome structure. And then God came to visit.
And He got insecure.
And He was like 'These guys speak the same language and look at what they've been able to build by themselves. If they continue like this, nothing's ever going to be impossible for them.
So I'm thinking… NOT GOOD.
I better scatter them all over the earth and then confuse their language.
So then they'll be stuck'.

Little did He know that He had no reason to be afraid.
If he would have just waited patiently, they wouldn't have gotten along anyway.
Then most people would have moved out of the Tower of Babel because they couldn't get along with their neighbor. And they needed more space for the kids and whatever else.
The scattering and the confusing of the language was unnecessary after all.

Who would have thought that animals are actually better off for not being able to talk?!? Take dogs for example.
They bark so much as it is… imagine what would happen if they actually knew what each bark meant?!?

Which brings me to the subject that has been bothering me for some time now.
When someone says something to you in bad taste- what should you do?

I've generally been a non-confrontational person- by default, not by design.
More often than not, I let people say things to me and walk away- not because I don't want to start a fight, but because I can't think of something witty and hurtful to say quickly enough.

So in high school when my 'best friend' put me down, I'd generally laugh it off because my brain would shut down and stop working when I'd try to force a witty response to the insult.
And little by little, that became the norm for me.

I'm not sure that's the right thing to do. It's not ALL bad but it's not that great.

So I decided to list out the pro's and con's of the two possible responses and maybe come to a logical conclusion regarding the superiority of one.

As I always do in my analysis, I start with a stimulus:

Scene (True story, by the way):
Year: 1998 or 1999.
Location: Dubai.
Phase in life: High School.

My 'best friend forever (BFF)' and I are standing on the sidewalk waiting for a cab. We're going to watch a movie. Cabs are hard to come by, when business is booming in Dubai.
Recession time is cab galore, but during the boom cycle, not so much.
I signal to one but it passes us by. My 'BFF' signals to the next one and it stops. While climbing in, she looks at me as if she's going to say something really smart- and says,

'Cabs only stop for pretty girls'.

Thirteen years later, I've made some real friends, and thrown her out of my life, but man, that still hurts.

At fifteen, the only sound I could hear was a faint buzz in my ears and an 'Uhhhhhh….' in my brain.
I hear ya.
I was a dork.

There are one of two things I could do.
Well… assuming I don't do the third thing.
Which would be allowing her to get into the cab first and before she got her hand out of the way, slam the cab door real hard on those pur-ty little fingers and ask the cabbie to floor it.
So assuming that's NOT an option…

The two responses are:        
  1. 'Hee. Hee. I know, you should do all the cab-calling from now on! Hee. Hee.'
  2. 'Too bad you aren't any prettier otherwise we'd get the cab ride for free. You conceited little *%$#@'

The first answer is obviously non-confrontational.

At first glance you're going to think- that's stupid. Why would anyone say that?
I agree it is stupid if that's your default answer. But if it's deliberate, it's a mistake to dismiss it. Here are the pros of the non-confrontational method:

  • You obviously know that the other person is wrong, so you're deliberately saving yourself the trouble of coming up with a fitting reply.

What trouble?!?
Ask my brain. It goes into over-drive and then shuts itself down when I ask it to come up with something at the spur of the moment.
Handling itself under pressure isn't something my brain does very well.
  • When you don't honor the remark with a reply, you get your revenge anyhow. Because then, the girl lives her whole life under the illusion that her good looks will get her through everything. And every time they don't, she's going to get what she had coming to her all along. The universe has a nice way of balancing itself. So you don't even need to worry.

  • You can be smug and know that you were the bigger person, the better person, the more mature person. The smarter person. The person who doesn't believe in tit for tat. A person who doesn't want to hurt anyone back.
You will be the one God chooses to have in heaven.

  • If you're in public, you could say something nasty and spoil the environment for everyone. When you laugh it off as a joke while making a note to deal with it later, you show mind boggling control over your emotions and avoid being the party pooper for everyone. Someone is bound to notice and be very grateful to you.
The cons are quite obvious. Those who are generally aggression prone (not in a bad way) have these on the tips of their tongues anyway.
  • You get tagged as a weakling.
By the lesser beings. Obviously.
  • You might feel bad that you didn't stand up for yourself. Specially if being the bigger person isn't your cup of tea.
This is unlikely, since the assumption is that you chose your response.
But it's a possibility.
Human brains are flaky.
  • Since your response doesn't do anything to prevent a future attack, there's a good chance that there will be a further attack and eventually, sooner or later, you're going to hit your 'bigger person' threshold and flip.

Now the confrontational approach. I have a feeling that this method has more takers. It's the natural approach to take, for most. The one that's dictated by common sense more than abstract concepts like eligibility for heaven.
I, myself, feel that in the short run, this really is the best way to go.
The pros, as obvious as they are, are:

  • It feels good to stand up for yourself.
After your debilitating retort, you can walk away with imaginary rock music playing in the background, metaphorically bloody faced and with that triumphant swagger. The swagger of a warrior. The swagger of a winner.

  • It sends out a strong message to everyone- that you cannot be messed with.
You WILL not be messed with.
You will annihilate the mess-er.
You will pound him to pulp with your words.
Your mess-er will rue the day she decided to mess with you.
You get the picture? Or do I have to punch ya in da face?
Sorry. Got sucked into the zone. 
I'm okay now.

  • You save yourself the anguish of kicking yourself later, for not saying anything. The kind of anguish that makes you remember one line  said to you thirteen years ago and makes you write a blog post about it even though the person who said it has long left your life.

The cons, are contentious. Mainly because this method is espoused by those with a strong aggressive streak. And they don't take too kindly to criticism.
Let me inform you guys, if you try to hurt me, my ghost will track you down and haunt you. 
So call off the snipers. Do it. NOW.
I have to take my paranoia medication.

So, the cons are:
  • If the main motivation of the stimulus is to get you all twisted up, then you're walking right in to the trap. The more upset you get, the meaner and nastier your responses get, the greater is the pleasure derived by the perpetrator. So this method not only allows but encourages the stimulus to just keep on going because she's getting instant gratification with your every retort.
If you think people like that don't exist, think again.
They may not openly admit to the fact that they enjoy seeing you get all wound up, but secretly you're taking them on their favorite ride in the amusement park.

  • You might not go through the 'kicking-yourself-for-not-saying-anything' routine that follows the non-confrontational response, but there's no guarantee that you won't go through the 'I should've also called her a @#&* and a &*$#@. I should've challenged her to a duel and poked the living daylights out of her. The next time I'm gonna pummel her and ….(so on)'. Basically, you might go through the mental anguish that comes with not saying enough.

  • Sometimes, giving it back to the other person just doesn’t feel that good.

The last point is my main beef with this method.
Let me tell you why.

There is a personal story coming up. If, like most sane people, you have no interest in the blogger's stories of childhood trauma at the hands of her 'BFF' -which involves painful detail of incidents picked right out of the last cheesy high school movie you watched- you might want to consider skipping this part. But if you do so, you will hurt the Pious Hippie's deepest, innermost, profoundest feelings and might feel bad all day.

So the Pious Hippie, pretending to be the third person narrator, suggests you act like you're reading and skim through the details and get the gist of it. And no one will be any wiser.

You're welcome. 

Having spent most of my final years in high school being told:

'You're not pretty enough'

' You're not really as smart as everyone says you are. The only reason you get better grades than me is because the teacher hates me.
I'm actually smarter than you'

'You really didn't deserve to get nominated for Captaincy*'
*Long story. Something to do with the school leadership development program.
Not important for the purpose of this post.

'You need to come out of your shell. Bookish knowledge isn't as useful as your parents think.'
I'm sorry, I'm trying hard to avoid making this post my personal ranting outlet but I have to take this one on. I just have to. Mainly because I took the non-confrontational approach 13 years ago.

For a person who's obliviously lived her whole life in the Dubai bubble, it's priceless she wanted me to come out of my shell. The second part of her statement- on thoughtful parenting- is justified, though, considering she had the experience of bringing up like 138 kids at the age of 15.

Okay, I'm done venting.
My apologies again.
I'm not going to repeat this ever.
Pinky promise.

The point of all this was basically to illustrate the intensity of my feelings.

So last year, when during my short stint in Dubai, I agreed to bury the hatchet and accept her invitation for coffee, old skeletons were forgiven not forgotten.
To be honest, it was a bit like a rubber match.
That's boxing terminology for the match that decides the ultimate winner.
I'm going to be using boxing jargon a LOT in the next few lines.
Just a warning.

The first part of the conversation went as expected, with her claiming her superiority over everything I've done in the last few years.
The pitty-pat punches.
But remember, I had practiced my moves a few million times in the mirror.

My palms were sweating when I saw the conversation leading to the exact time I would pull out the stops and let one of my well-rehearsed lines rip through the air and hit her in the face. And I did.

The whir around me slowed down and I could almost see my metaphoric boxing glove pierce through the rippling air, Matrix style, and hit the target- bulls-eye. The jaw got displaced, the lip was distorted in slow motion, her eyes rolled in her head and she fell *thud* onto the floor.
I had sucker punched her.

And then I saw my victim's face.
It was sheepish. It was defeated.
I was waiting for the counterpunch.
But it never came.
She was down and out.
She had kissed the canvas.
She had thrown in the towel.

And then I waited for the wave of triumph to sweep my insides.
The eerie silence. The sound of my heart beating and my own deep breaths.
The beads of sweat dripping from my forehead.
The first round of applause followed with cheers from the crowd. The flashes of the cameras.
The rock music in my head and a shot of my face bloody but triumphant.

You know what?!?
The feeling never came.

Instead, when I saw my opponent in that helpless state, immediately a voice inside my head said,

'That wasn't a very nice thing to say. What is wrong with you? What have you become? 27 years of a wonderful life and this is what you have to show for it?'

I tried to protest.
'But she started it…'

'So what?!? Like you didn't expect it? Do you want to become like her?!'

'Um… no.'

'Then do some damage control. Right now. Shame on you. Don't you ever do that again.'

Dang it.
This wasn't the way I was supposed to feel.
The confrontational method instruction manual says nothing about dealing with the annoying inner voice.

This incident cemented my belief that one method really isn't superior to the other. It all depends on the kind of person you are. And how you feel after you employ one or the other method. The only caveat is to make sure it's by design, not default.

If you're actually a non-confrontation-er then employing the confrontation method is going to leave you feeling shameful and confused. And if you're a confrontation sort of person, NOT saying anything could turn you into a pressure cooker and you could go insane.

So now I try to fine-tune my own strategy that works for me.

If someone said to me today that cabs won't stop for me because I'm not pretty enough, I'd probably smile and pity her inside my head. Feel bad for her sense of insecurity. And depending on the intent behind the statement, plan to evict them from my life. And then forget about it.

It's my 'Smile and wave' method of non-confrontation- adapted from Madagascar, the movie. It even comes in handy with people you can't thrown out of your life- and have to put up with.
Call it the weakling approach, call it gut-less and lily-livered.
Call it what you will, but it works for me.  

When my threshold is reached, I say just about enough -to balance both my self-respect and my conscience. It doesn't need to be nasty. It just has to show that I disagree but have better things to do than fight over it with an imbecile.
Okay fine. It might be a little nasty.

But that's what fine-tuning is about.

Redoing the parts of your responses that make you feel bad and building on the parts that make you feel better.

And to think fine-tuning our response strategy would be completely unnecessary if God would have just given us a few more non-renewable energy resources  instead of the 'Gift of Speech'.

But I don't know. You can't put it past us humans to invent something new if God hadn't allowed us to talk. Maybe like a Morse code with the blinking of eye-lids.
Or a language of claps.
One clap means 'Thank you'.
Two claps mean 'You're stupid'.
Three claps mean 'Your pants are on fire'.
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The Pious Hippie by Ms. Pious Hippie is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.