Despite its somewhat combative title, this post isn’t a call to arms. I like to think of it as a kind of mini survival guide aimed (forgive the pun) at young people trying to overcome some of the social ills that they often find themselves on the receiving end of : mean-spirited criticism and hurtful put-downs, peer pressure, prejudice, oppression, condescension and intimidation.
So many of these fledgling spirits believe that in order to succeed in dealing with these slights and attacks they have to somehow develop an impenetrable exoskeleton or a thick skin.
Some coax themselves into embracing the stoical “water off a duck’s back” rationale. This affected cynicism – a figurative bulletproofing of the budding ego and fragile identity in the making – is what many seem to aspire to.
But I suspect that no matter how much they defiantly claim not to care – secretly, most of them do.
These ‘slings and arrows’ find their mark. Deep down inside. When nobody is watching. They wound, hurt and have the potential to haunt us. They impair self-esteem and pride. At the very least they make us feel a little unsafe and guarded. Even if you don’t let it faze you, it still sits uncomfortably.
At the same time we seem so uncomfortable with admitting to it.
Why is this? Is it the result of social or cultural programming? Or is it the fear that an admission of this nature renders us exposed and all the more susceptible? And then there’s the whole “why give them the satisfaction” thing (which I get).
But I think it’s understandable, okay and even endearing when people acknowledge their vulnerability from time to time. We’re only human. We’re entitled to our feelings. No one is impervious.
The popular consensus is that whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Well, that’s certainly been my experience at any rate.
But what do we do until we’re able to summon up that transcendent strength from within?
Well, I don’t think that donning the emotional equivalent of kevlar is the ultimate solution.
In a previous post I offered an alternative approach – and here it is…
Don’t just deflect, reflect. Don’t just denounce, decode!
Sound a bit cryptic to you?
Let’s see… how can I put this in a fun, relatable way to illustrate my point…
Feel like playing a little mind game?
You know those feisty battle bots you get in sci-fi adventure movies and novels? The kind usually dreamed up by the ubiquitous evil mastermind hell-bent on taking over the world? The sophisticated, learning robot with the impenetrable armour that the protagonist must try to outsmart – except the longer he or she takes to do so, the more information the robot is able to gather about its opponent’s game-plan, weaknesses and strengths. With each successive failed attempt at destroying it, the machine becomes all the more perceptive and adroit. Eventually, the shrewd automaton is even able to predict its adversary’s next move and launch a countermeasure – making it all but indestructible.
Well, imagine yourself as being a bit like that robot (without the evil objectives, of course).
Imagine that you have super processing and perceptive powers!
Try to receive negative feedback with your head instead of your heart.
Let the incoming information filter through so you can decode and unpack it – thereby disarming it.
Take it apart, bit by bit (or byte by byte).
Analyse the data, so to speak.
Take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
We all delight in solving a puzzle or a riddle, don’t we? Well, it’s a bit like that actually.
Ask yourself : What is this really about? Is this genuinely constructive critique or is this deliberately barbed language that’s designed to manipulate, hook, hurt or provoke me? What kind of response is this designed to elicit? And whose interests will best be served if I respond in the manner expected? What is the underlying motive or agenda?
Simply put, What’s the why?
One of the unexpected perks of being an ‘observer’ (prone, admittedly, to over-analysis) is that I’ve acquired the facility for detecting and decrypting the many nuanced ways that people betray themselves through their choice of words, actions, tone of voice and even body language.
And betray ourselves we most certainly do!
Just because we get away with it, doesn’t mean we haven’t given ourselves away…
Some people play out and project their ‘stuff’ onto others without even realizing it or even trying to (exceedingly frustrating to observe). With others, there’s a very calculated strategy and deliberate manipulation at play (equally exasperating, but easier to mirror back).
It’s all so transparent and obvious once you broaden your field of vision, place people and events in context and under closer scrutiny – and sharpen your powers of perception.
You’ll soon find that it’s easier to see people for who and what they are – beyond face value – from the good to the bad to the plain old ugly. You’ll also be able to discern and separate deliberately caustic commentary from valuable and useful critique. Now that would be something to aspire to!
But until then, the next time you’re confronted with the former, just remember…
If you decode it, you disarm it. And if you disarm it, you’ve defeated it’s purpose and it’s source.