Tag Archive: fighting fair

Vol #1, Col #7: En Garde!

Col7_EnGardeAs our discussion of “dissociative anonymity” proved, having a disagreement with a stranger, even if it leads to verbal abuse, is an entirely different ballgame than arguing with someone to whom you have personalities, either professionally or personally. Unfortunately, no matter how much you love or respect someone (and vise versa), sometimes things are still said and done that really can’t be taken back. Unlike what the childhood rhyme would suggest, words can AND do cause considerable pain.

Emotions can be both wonderful and debilitating sensations,often simultaneously. As Courtney Love so eloquently put it, “I love so much I hate.” Because emotions like psychoactive substances can become overwhelming to one’s being (mentally, physically and spiritually), developing self-control,learning coping strategies and importantly, mature conflict resolution is essential to one’s very survival. In fact, as a course in criminology I once took taught me, the number one type of homicide is that which occurs between two males, 18-24, fighting over the same female mate. Yes…love can kill.

In any argument, you will find yourself in one of two roles:that of the instigator or that of the retaliator. While both terms conjure up negative connotations, it’s important to understand that conflict in itself is NOT necessarily a bad thing. Rather, it’s how you deal with it that determines whether the outcome is positive or negative. In fact, many psychologists argue that conflict can be the breeding ground for both self and relationship growth.For example, though initiating emotional discussions is not anyone’s particular cup of tea, dealing with issues when they occur (as opposed to bottling up one’s feelings) is a more mature and healthy response in that it prevents resentment, which can lead to subconscious attempts to sabotage the offender,from building up. Likewise, while it may not be a pleasant experience to hear someone out in terms of how you’ve hurt or offended them (it bruises one’s ego after all), allowing yourself to get defensive and failing to validate the  other party’s feelings only ever makes small conflicts turn into maelstroms. With this said, if you’ve got to tango, you need to learn the moves. In any conflict:

1)     It’s important to talk openly, calmly and honestly:

If you don’t feel comfortable in expressing yourself candidly, you may want to contemplate what the relationship in question actually means to you. Those who love, respect and value you will accept you,warts and all. That’s their job as is yours to reciprocate. Accordingly, if you’ve done something stupid, wrong, hurtful, whathaveyou, be mature and own up to it. Accepting responsibility for your actions is one of the first major steps to growing up.

2)      To avoid defensive reactions which bar communications, learn to preface your complaints with statements of care:

For example, before launching into how the offender has hurt you, say something gentle along the following lines: “I’d really like us to be able to have an open and mature relationship with each other so that we can better understand each other’s perspectives. With that said, I’d like to speak with you about what happened the other day. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but (this)and (this action) really hurt my feelings.”

I know this may seem like a bunch of gobbly-goop, but honestly, just making a few statements such as those above before participating in a full-on emotional discourse can save you from getting into a further conflict about the argument itself! There are a few important aspects of the above preface worth mentioning:

a) the emphasis on what you desire in your relationship with the other person. By stating outright how much you value the other person, their perspective and what ideally you’d like to work toward with them relationship-wise, it minimizes the chance of a defensive reaction by reaffirming your words are coming from a place of care and a desire to fix issues, rather than create them.

b) the emphasis on ‘speaking with’ the individual, rather than ‘speaking’ to them. Subtle changes in word phrasing can result in dramatic effects, both for the better or worst. By using the expression “speak with” in this context rather than “to speak to”, it illustrates your desire for cooperative non-confrontational discussion as opposed to lecturing or belittling which again, for obvious reasons, will minimize the chance of a defensive reaction.

c) the emphasis on owning your feelings. Again, though subtle, stating that you felt hurt (ie: an ‘I statement’)as opposed to “YOU HURT ME” (ie: a ‘You Statement’) makes a world of difference in terms of the reaction it’ll merit. By owning your feelings in discussions,it allows you to explain your point-of-view, while at the same time compelling the offender to validate your feelings by demonstrating empathy.


3)     If there’s a chance things will get heated, set ground rules for discussion such as allotting each speaker a time limit to express their concerns, while making it clear that personal attacks will not be tolerated.

If one or both parties begins to “brickwall” (ie: gets so emotional that there’s no logic in their words and they’re effectively only spewing fire from a defensive stance), it may be best to leave the “scene of the crime” until you’ve both had a chance to cool down. Note however it’s important to not leave the discussion hanging in limbo for too long as that too could breed further problems.


4)     Avoid both saying and accepting the “I’m Fine” statement:

In a word, it’s b.s. If there’s a distinct frustration,anger, annoyance etc. in someone’s tone of voice and they tell you “they’re fine”, don’t buy it. That’s not license to poke and prod them however as this will likely only piss them off further. A more successful approach would be stating something along the lines of, “I don’t wish to irritate you, but it seems to me there is something on your mind. If you’d like to speak about it,I’d be happy to listen. I’m just concerned is all.” As with the last suggested phrasing, there are some key aspects to point out here:

a)      the emphasis on not wishing to create further problems and a genuine concern for the individual’s well being. By including both of these considerations in your approach, it should help the individual feel “safe” in expressing their concerns as well as calm any anger that may be brewing, even if what has gotten them riled up in the first place directly involved something you said or did.

b)      the use of “it seems to me” and “I’m concerned”: Again both of these phrasings indicate an owning of your emotions without putting words into the other party’s mouth. If the individual is using the “I’m Fine” statement, the last thing you want to do is assume you know what’s bothering them. NEVER assume anything in a conflict – people will and do surprise you.

c)       the emphasis on when THEY’D like to speak about what’s ailing them. You’ve effectively put the ball in the other person’s court, BUT IMPORTANTLY ALSO indicated you’d like to resolve the issue. This demonstrates a mature approach and again should help the individual open up in a more timely and calm manner.

5)     ALWAYS avoid childish “I told you so”-like remarks as well as passive aggressiveness (ie:acting like everything is fine, only to turn around seemingly of nowhere and explode). I believe this is self-explanatory.

6)      Learn the Art of Forgiving and Letting Go:

You’ve heard the expression, “focus on the task at hand.”While usually uttered in reference to the workplace, it would do you a great service to also employ said suggestion when it comes to conflict resolution.Ongoing guilt-tripping is psychological abuse intended to manipulate and establish unfair power dynamics in a relationship. It’s a low move and accomplishes nothing…nothing positive anyway.

Conflicts, as I stated near the beginning of this piece, can serve as a tremendous source of growth, but that’s only if you allow yourself and others to move forward, learn from your mistakes and let go.

As for forgiving others, set limits and know them. Some acts are altogether unforgiveable – that’s a given — but remember, forgiveness benefits you just as much as the offender. Studies have proven that maintaining grudges not only affects individuals on an emotional level, but further can affect one’s physical health. The same goes for living with guilt.

And finally…

7)      Remember, there is a HUGE difference from the listener’s perspective in terms of being outright called a derogatory comment VERSUS having one’s actions labelled as symptomatic of that derogatory comment (ie: you are a bitch vs. you are being a bitch).


Yes, that’s right folks, for clarity purposes, I’m referencing yet again the concept of the “personal attack.” The former statement above implies a permanent character trait that one cannot change, while the latter points out that while you are clearly displeased with the individual’s current choices/behaviour, you still love/respect them. Criticize actions, not individuals. In other words, this week’s lesson: fight fair.  

Col6_DebateAs an editorialist, I tend to walk (erm…write) on the “controversial” side of the spectrum. Touching upon subjects like whether religion or science has caused more human catastrophe, whether certain behaviours should remain gendered and/or whether humans have the right to play “God” via technological intervention, for example…I’m sure you get why I tend to piss a lot of people off.

But, of course this is NOT my motivation, but rather a symptom of the fact that individuals frequently get emotional when one expresses strong convictions about well…just about anything. I must be doing my job right however if I’m at least getting you thinking; after all, you wouldn’t be reacting emotionally unless that were being accomplished. Just saying…

The problem, in my view, does not lay within maintaining opinions nor expressing them. As someone who gets paid to tout her thoughts, I’d be a huge hypocrite if I were not always readily and happily available for a good debate. Instead, the problem rests in our reactions upon hearing something that flies in the face of everything we believe, likely always have believed and/or hold dear to our hearts. When it comes to differences of opinion, what sets apart the psychologically mature and immature then comes down to three distinct characteristics:

1) the former does not cling to his/her values, attitudes and beliefs in ignorance (ie: he/she has strong validation, if not research to which to refer to back up his/her opinions. In a word, such an individual is “invested” into who they are and why they believe what they do. There’s that good old introspection again!)

2) the former is willing to admit errors in judgement upon the acquisition of new information and therefore adjust his/her views accordingly

And finally and most importantly, 3) the former is respectfully accepting of the opinions of others, even when they directly contradict his/her own views (ie: he/she will simply “agree to disagree”)

With all of this said, I hope it is obvious that it is NOT the receipt of impassioned emails I receive from readers pointing out the “flaws” (in their opinions) of my views that bothers me. In fact, I ALWAYS (and you can quote me on this) take the time to read through their arguments and respond in an objective fashion. The issue I have is when my simple expression of a given opinion somehow transforms me in my entirety into an individual characterized by a derogatory comment, particularly when it’s being uttered by someone who doesn’t know a thing about me other than the fact we do not see eye-to-eye in ONE area. This is what is known psychologically-speaking as a “personal attack”. But before I get into that definition, I’d like to point out what I feel are two important pieces of information to consider from my perspective in this equation (sorry for all the numbered lists!):

1) I don’t recall ever forcing anyone to read my writings

Moreover, 2) I don’t recall ever forcing anyone to accept my opinions as their own

Now, in any disagreement with another individual, you always have a clear choice in terms of how maturely you will phrase your reactions. Admittedly, we all get heated at times and say things out of turn, but a huge aspect of developing psychological maturity is getting a handle on one’s emotions (ie: both being able to control oneself and further being able to understand why one reacts the way he/she does).

With all of this said, there’s a HUGE difference in terms of strongly disagreeing with someone on a given subject matter and not liking them as an individual altogether. I should know being the hippie artistic child of a highly successful entrepreneurial businessman father: when it comes to the subject of the value of money or the government’s right to taxation, we couldn’t possibly be singing from more different song sheets. Our difference in opinion however is not “just cause” for me hating my pops nor calling him a selection of profanities. So why has this unduly treatment been issued to me and other entertainers/personalities? Well a few reasons (oh man, another numbered list?! I know, I know I apologize in advance.):

1) when you work under the public’s scrutiny, “the common joe” seems to believe that your feelings don’t get hurt as easily or as much when shit is slung in your general direction, and/or you can or SHOULD be able to take more shit than the average person. FYI this is NOT always true.

2) when a psychologically immature individual is faced with evidence that may cause him/her to re-examine (or examine for the first time) the rationale driving his/her beliefs which is an aspect of his/her self-concept, instead of being introspective, he/she will often react defensively and emotionally as a means of self-preservation (something we discussed last week)

and 3) this week’s discussion: the concept of anonymity. The individuals who send me and others “hate mail” don’t truly “know” who we are as people and therefore have no obligatory ties to us. In sum, unlike if I were to call my dad a dick for believing something I could not even begin to conceive of, the aforementioned “hate mailers” suffer little to no consequences for their actions.

As explained by Rider University’s Dr. John Suler in, CyberPsychology and Behavior: “Anonymity works wonders for the disinhibition effect. When people have the opportunity to separate their actions from their real world and identity, they feel less vulnerable about opening up. Whatever they say or do can’t be directly linked to the rest of their lives. They don’t have to own their behavior by acknowledging it within the full context of who they ‘really’ are. When acting out hostile feelings, the person doesn’t have to take responsibility for those actions. In fact, people might even convince themselves that those behaviors ‘aren’t me at all.’ In psychology this is called ‘dissociation.’”

As you’ll recall, I earlier stated that I always take the time to write back to my “hate mailers” and probe them further to question themselves as to why they hold the views they do, while gently reminding them that a difference of opinion is not grounds for verbal abuse. Interestingly, I NEVER receive responses; a fact that very much confirms Suler’s analysis that those engaged in “dissociative anonymity” do not categorize their actions as an encompassment of who they are. To respond would force them to own up to their actions, whereas failing to carry on a dialogue and actually getting to know me as an individual allows them to maintain their prejudicial views. It isn’t a stretch to consider then that racism is commonly based upon similar foundations (ie: lack of exposure to/ignorance of other groups outside of one’s own immediate periphery).

In sum, while issuing “personal attacks” may allow the instigator of such to achieve a temporary feeling of quasi-“superiority” based on an avoidance to look within, from a psychological stance, it’s a logical fallacy to divert an argument to belittling unless the goal were to determine who is willing to sink to a lower level (see political “muckracking” campaigns if you require more proof). Likewise, it’s a logical fallacy to possess feelings of hatred toward strangers and/or label strangers hurtful derogatory comments seeing as it literally does not make sense to harbour such strong feelings when there is no actual emotional connection (yet another indication one should look within, instead of outward). In other words, and as we’ll cover more next week, by all means go forth and debate, but first learn the art of “fighting fair.”