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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Why Insults Are Helpful

Just this morning, I saw a post on Facebook that got under my skin.  It is from a fellow who teaches about leadership.  He offers and example from the Desert Fathers about not reacting to criticism.  Criticism, and particularly insults, are really helpful.  We should not ignore them and merely act as if they didn't happen.

It is a missed opportunity to grow if we train ourselves to ignore them.  In fact, people who routinely ignore their detractors are often called 'arrogant' and 'aloof,' as well as 'foolish.'  We can take this far enough to the point where we become 'stubborn' or 'unadvisable.'

So, what is an insult?  Wiktionary defines is as:

1. An action or form of speech deliberately intended to be rude.
2. Anything that causes offence/offense, e.g. by being of an unacceptable quality.
3. (medicine) Something causing disease or injury to the body or bodily processes.
4. (obsolete) The act of leaping on; onset; attack.

So, it is an attack, and it's primary quality is that it is rude or socially demeaning.

But, how is an insult harmful?  The most dangerous thing about an insult is how plausible it is.  That is determined by the standing of the insulter, as well as the reality of the insultee.  The higher the standing of the insulter, the more weight an insult carries.  After all, a person of high stature is, by definition, more credible.

On the other hand, the more believable the insult is because of who we are, the more likelihood that people will believe it.  This is the sting of the insult: it cuts against our public perception we seek to cultivate in others, or at least benefit from.

And, that is where we see that insults are about what effects our relationships with others, which means that the more insecure we are in our relationships, the more we will fear that others will believe it and that our social standing will be effected.  On the other hand, the more solid our relationships with others are, the less likely an insult will have any effect.

But, the bigger question is whether the insult is true or not.  Sometimes, simply stating the truth about us can be seen as an insult because we don't want to acknowledge the truth about ourselves.  We want to hide the truth, because we are afraid that others will reject us.  This means that the real problem lies within ourselves.

The more comfortable and honest we are about who we are, especially with other people, the less likely we will be insulted when someone comes out and has the audacity to say the truth about us in an unflattering way, and by that I mean a way that isn't obscured somehow.  Also, the fewer secrets we have, the less likely that an insult will have any bite, because the insulter is merely stating what is already public knowledge.  Hardly anything shocking about that.

But, what is often more offensive is when an insult is not true, but still believable.  Those are the ones that often bother us.  So, the really powerful insults are those that others could believe to be true.  So, it is our own condition before the insult, and more importantly, what we do afterwards, which is critical.

An insult is either sustained or destroyed, not by the disposition of those who insult, but by the disposition of those who bear it. (St. John Chrysostom)

St. John is talking about the social side of an insult, and whether it will be believed.  This is obviously important: if you are not comfortable with who you are, then an insult will hit you particularly hard.  People will also judge your reaction to it if they are uncertain about its truth.  The better you bear it, the more likely others will not believe it.

However, this is only one side.  The other side is whether it could be true.  That is where we need to look within ourselves.  When the sting of the insult comes, it is a chance to examine our inner being and ask ourselves those tough questions.

Negative emotions are a sing that something is wrong within us, and that we have something that needs to come out.  It is some Pride we are using to patch up a Fear within us.  These Fears are deadly to addicts: they are why we use.  Recovery is about finding these fears and turning them over.

Even after years and years of working the Steps, we can continue to uncover old fears or wrestle with new ones.  That's OK, and it is, in fact, a very good sign.  It is a lifetime process, and the man who is not wrestling with himself will soon find himself wrestling with a demon.  I know who I would rather be up against.

So, if you are insulted, after the initial 'hurt' has passed, go back and use it as an opportunity.  Take it in, and examine it.  Find out what it was that it struck within you.  Those are the things that God must heal in order for you to grow.  Then you will also learn the meaning of this:

But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either." (Luke 6:27-29)

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this post! It is very encouraging. I have always felt that God was speaking through the insults and harder events in my life. While I am good at taking note of it, I am not so good at responding to the challenge on the spot. In fact, this is something I am trying to improve in general -- my response rate. If things remain too much in my mind and don't go to my heart, then chances are I am going to miss opportunities. Yet, I believe God will always find ways to turn the situation into another opportunity (a smaller one, but still important).