I am 73, and walk funny, slapping rather than planting my left foot, due to a stroke over three years ago. I just read about a 65 year old man who was suing Staples for age discrimination. In his complaint, he said that numerous supervisors denigrated him specifically due to age, referring to him as, when talking to others, as the “old coot” or “codger”, and when he didn’t take the hint and retire or quit, they fired him for a trumped up theft of a co-worker’s lunch. He did and said nothing back while working, but sued when he was fired. A jury awarded him $15 million in punitive and compensatory damages.
When you are insulted, either to your face or within your hearing, how do you handle it? I am not talking about hypersensitive crap like “microaggressions”, “cultural appropriation” or “assumed racism”. I’m talking real insults! And not the dull, dumb, unimaginative stuff like “you suck” or “your mother is ugly” that spews from the mouths of genuine idiots. I mean the kind of insults that attack and target the things you are most defenseless, defensive, and offended by, like jokes about your weight, your disability, your intelligence, your sexual prowess…..you know, all the things that normal people realize are off limits….or should be. Many will take issue with my denigrating microaggressions, cultural appropriation or assumed racism. Before I comment, consider the popular definition of microaggression: “Everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership”. Whether intentional or unintentional???
Now I will offer a definition of the definition: “The propensity of overly sensitive or self-conscious people to find or take offense at every day comments or questions, by reading bad intentions into them; especially hurtful to those who feel left out of the privilege sweepstakes, or whose sense of privilege is less than that of the speaker. How exactly does a “nonverbal or environmental slight” ‘communicate’ anything, let alone “hostile or derogatory messages?” Can you read someone’s mind? Do you know their intentions, even when they don’t (the “unintentional” part)?
If my definition of the definition of micro aggression offended you, here is your first lesson in how to effectively put on your big boy, or girl, pants. Advice #1. Since a “microaggression” can be, by definition, “intentional or unintentional”, and since you don’t know whether it is, nor do you know what, if anything, the speaker meant, any reference to it, or your feelings about it, will probably make you look weak or foolish. That being said, there are ways to not only render the insulter foolish and embarrassed, but to cast you as the coolest head that was ever insulted, IF you are very certain an insult was intentional. Worst advice: “If you feel slighted, odds are you were. You’re not being too sensitive. That thing really did happen.” No, your feelings say more about you than the other person! That’s advice #2.
Advice #3. If the insults are name-calling accusations, like “racist” or “homophobe”, ask for a definition, pretending ignorance. “If I knew what a ‘homophobe’ was, I could own up to it, so would you grace me with a definition?” Note, you are not saying “I’m sorry, I don’t know what that is.” Don’t say “sorry” when you aren’t. Your statement implies you’re open minded enough to accept the insult, while challenging the insulter to define their terms—which will usually be embarrassing because they can rarely define them. In the unlikely event they can define the term, and you believe you really meet the definition, admit it. Be the big person….that’s power. Ask for forgiveness, rather than say you’re sorry. Sorry is about your feelings. Why should they care? But asking for forgiveness gives the other person an opportunity to be the big person also. You might even develop a friendship based on mutual respect. That’s the big prize!
Advice #4. Be creative by going their insult one further. One day I was walking in a park, my left foot doing its flapping routine. Then I sat down on a bench. There were three teenage boys observing me. They thought it might be amusing to mimic my walk a little, stealing sideways glances at me, as they took turns getting up from their bench. I wasn’t angry, I thought “here’s my chance for some fun.” I went over to them and said, “you guys are doing it all wrong, I flap every second step, you’re flapping every step. Watch me, here’s the right way to imitate.” They were totally embarrassed, hoping not to be noticed by families in the park. This advice is, turn the insult around by doing it better and treating it as something they should master.
Advice #5. Pretend you’re in the military, or on a team with a mission. There are no trigger words, microaggressions or excuses to sulk when your mission, or even your life, is at stake and depends on teamwork. Being focused on something bigger than your feelings—and what isn’t bigger—gives you the chance to put your momentary feelings and tendency to react on hold. Later, when your initial reaction has settled, you can talk it out, or more often, wonder what you were so upset about.