Monday, 21 January 2013

Hitting The Wall: Innocent or Offensive Misundestandings, and the Notion of Passive/Aggressive Self-Righteousness

In every conversation (oral but especially written), the person talking/writing is of course responsible for what they say, but the person listening/reading is equally responsible for what they interpret, often even more so as they bring their own emotions and/or biases into the dialogue once (or even before) the "message" has been expressed.

When you have "spoken" you can no longer control what happens to the words that have left your mouth/hand.

Sure, you should take extra care in forming and expressing those words in an earnest attempt to prevent any potential misunderstanding, and you should try hard to acknowledge your own preconceptions and biases that could hurt or offend others, but those efforts can only go so far. If the other person wants/expects to understand a certain "something", they will always find a way to hear/read "it", regardless of your most earnest intentions.

You can simply utter a single word "Yes" or "no" or "hi" or "good-night", and people who have certain opinions or expectations from you may instead choose to hear/read "fuck you", "I hate you", instead of the more rationally intended message. If such simple words can be so easily misconstrued against your intentions, imagine what harm may be done in more complicated exchanges that require higher levels of intellectual analysis and emotional interpretation. If you then factor in any/all added cultural, gender, age, social (etc.) differences, the ensuing mayhem could prove to be mind-boggling.

Once again, you may well be in the wrong as it may have been a poor (or hasty) choice of words (or lack thereof), a stressful moment or simply a bad mood on your part that has caused the original tension. If that happens, you must be quick to address it and try to rectify it with a sincere apology and a further explanation of your intended message. We are all humans and we all make mistakes. Nobody's perfect after all, but a bad decision or an unfortunate moment doesn't automatically turn someone into a "villain".

However, those who choose to be offended or hurt by your words even AFTER your apology or explanations have been repeatedly offered, they can still choose to do so despite your previous clean track record and your proven well-intended nature. They may or may not realise they are doing it, but once that twisted interpretation has occurred, insisting on your efforts to clear the air will most probably be fruitless, as the other person has already made up their mind about what it is you meant/insinuated, despite all objective and rational evidence to the contrary. As a result, more often than not they will try to escalate things and make a mountain out of a molehill.

I still don't understand why this occurs. Yes, it's true that all people like to be right, and it may be difficult to take the time and TRULY analyse your thoughts and actions and/or try and rectify the situation but it IS possible, and any loss of dignity is small a price to pay in order to preserve an amorous relationship, a professional collaboration or a friendship at stake. If anything, there is MORE dignity in admitting you're wrong and apologising than stubbornly sticking to your "guns" against all rationality and objectivity, in my humble opinion.

Yet, some people never admit it when they're wrong and are too scared to concede and apologise once they take the wrong turn, almost as if their life depended on preserving their self-righteousness. What usually follows is a warped, passive/aggressive behaviour that informs their every contact with you, transforming every casual exchange into a sickening "battle" that knows no limits and often finds no end.

When that happens and after you have already tried your very best to make the other party understand you're not really an elephant, you may find yourself constantly hitting your head against a wall made out of their stubborn determination to refuse your appeasing explanations.

This is when it is often smart to withdraw and move on

There are more constructive things you can do with your head than expecting to break down a wall. Walls don't usually come down despite all the head-butting in the world.

Don't worry so much about this withdrawal, you will always find other people more conducive to a loving relationship, to some complementing flirtation, to a professional collaboration, to a humorous exchange,  or to some simple friendly bunter than a wall ever will be.

Not to mention all the headache you will be spared.