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Dealing With Belittlers

I've been thinking through a comment I made elsewhere that had to do with being the target of comments meant to belittle--the patronizing sort of chatter that comes from folks who believe they have authority and/or knowledge, and decide to flex their perceived power at the expense of others. The sort that's intended to put a person "in her place" by insulting her work, or intended to "show him who's boss" by scoffing at his knowledge.

You all know what I'm talking about.

The belittling is merely insecurity that's laminated in protective bluster, and is most common in forums that have a clear demarcation between the Crowned and the Courtiers. I've dealt with it in karate. I've run into this from writers online, and I've watched it happen in person at SF conventions. I've had it come up at hardware stores, mechanic shops, fabric stores, dog shows, conventions, wellness workshops... You name the setting, there will be insecure assholes who want desperately to be worshiped as its Most Important Experts.

In karate, some of the worst offenders are folks who have just acquired their Shodan black belt. (Folks who quit training around brown belt are a close second.) I am not saying all new Shodan students usually behave that way. I'm saying that those who do behave so are usually new Shodans.

On the other hand, there are plenty of higher ranking martial arts instructors who think proper training involves belittling and humiliating their students. And you can see that ripple outward, as that person's students eventually become teachers who carry on that harmful tradition. Insults and physical harm then become "real" training, when it's actually nothing more than a continuous ego boost for a fragile personality.

It happens among writers as well. Delivering cruel and belittling critiques with the excuse of "It's a tough business and I'm telling you the Published Author truth!" is nothing but a way for that writer to feel important and powerful. To become the Crowned among the Courtiers. Alas, it is a failing of our culture that we equate the acquisition of skill with the ability to teach and guide. And it's a failing of any organization that permits--encourages, even--callousness in place of constructiveness directed toward new writers putting their work on the line.

Though much of that belittling behavior is pushed by the Imposter Syndrome, I'm not interested in excusing or fixing the behavior on that account. The first isn't fair to their targets; the second would require a long-term training program. What I am interested in are strategies to divert the behavior, shut down the behavior, and/or mitigate the impact of the behavior.

When I get a parent who wants to mansplain karate to me. I've found the best way to stop them is to squint a little and tilt my head, but never break eye contact. Then, when they pause, I say, "Huh," and shrug, then go on to something else. It gives the impression their words have washed right past me, and I don't have time to deal with them. If I want to be more diplomatic, I'll add, "You might be right" before walking away.

It's the eye contact that makes the different, I think.

My late husband taught me to use because as the means of getting past bluster. Most Important Writer says, "You should never write coming-of-age stories set in castles." Most Important New Black Belt says, "You should never hold your foot that way for a kick." I say, without the rising tone of a question, "Because..." It might tease out a piece of truly valuable information. Most often it'll lead to opinions set on sand below the high tide line. Good advice will have strong reasoning; pontification crumbles under examination.

Anyone else have strategies to defuse and deter a belittler?

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
sartorias
Jun. 23rd, 2013 07:37 pm (UTC)
If they seem the type to want to argue and argue and argue until you give in, a cheerful "Thank you so much. You may be right!" and go right on with what you were doing shortcuts the argument.

Toxic ones, ignore. "Do not feed the energy creature."

Ones who seem to need to bolster their own shaky self-image by imparting clues that everyone around is lower on the totem pole, let 'em vent.
blairmacg
Jun. 25th, 2013 02:26 am (UTC)
Ones who seem to need to bolster their own shaky self-image by imparting clues that everyone around is lower on the totem pole, let 'em vent

I am, admittedly, very bad in the patience department in that particular situation. In the back of my mind is the constant, "You're wasting everyone's time!" screech. I use the phrase, "Don't burn my minutes" on the dojo mat, but I don't think that would go over well in other situations. :)
queenoftheskies
Jun. 28th, 2013 06:15 pm (UTC)
I want to comment on this, but I just haven't had the time.
blairmacg
Jun. 28th, 2013 06:57 pm (UTC)
No problem. This is a no-deadline zone. :)
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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