Your Pride Makes You Vulnerable: How To Stop Being Easily Offended

One could argue it's everyone's goal in life to develop a set of skills or characteristics that you can take pride in, but these same positive traits can also be a weight on your shoulders.

I recently watched an episode of Joe Rogan's podcast with a comedian named Owen Benjamin, and it is definitely worth watching. They cover a variety of odd topics in a humorous but oddly philosophical way...and go on several interesting tangents in the process.

There is one part at the very end of the 3+ hour podcast, though, that really stuck out to me. Owen discusses his high school job as a heckler at a renaissance fair in which he hung in the stocks and got tomatoes thrown at him for money. Apparently at this job, the more tomatoes he got thrown at him, the more money he made, so he made it a goal to insult people so much that they kept throwing tomatoes at him.

As he is reminiscing about this questionable job (seems like nowadays that'd definitely be an OSHA violation or something) he gives a little gem of advice that digs deep into the realms of the human psyche:

"I learned to mock what people have pride in, not what is. For a 400 lb man, fatness doesn't matter...someone 10 lbs overweight, it'll crush them."

I've embedded the video below, starting at the point where he tells this story:

This advice intrigues me, not because I enjoy insulting people and making them mad (I don't...although sometimes it just happens naturally), but for the opposite effect: if you can identify what insults you the most, then you can build a defense for it.

These days, everyone seems pretty easily insulted by...everything. It doesn't matter what you say, there is probably someone who is mad about it. My generation, the millennials, seem to have unfortunately developed the reputation for being easily offended. What's interesting, though, and this goes with Owen's point, is that millennials also have the reputation for being narcissistic.

Now, if one thing is certain in this world, it's that older generations always say that younger generations are spoiled, ill-mannered, ego-centric, weak, etc. etc. The GI generation said it about the Baby Boomers, and now the Boomers are saying it about Millennials. It's a tale as old as time, so it may be possible that Millennials aren't that much different than past generations at the same point in life, but now we of course have a way of broadcasting our feelings to the world.

In any case, it doesn't change the fact that a great many people are easily offended, and there are two solutions for that: 1) we treat everyone like a delicate flower and be sure not to say anything at all that they might find even the slightest bit offensive, in the process destroying the very tenants of free speech that built America in the first place...or 2) people toughen up and learn not to take offense to things.

Now, 2) may never be completely realizable, in the way that getting punched in the face still hurts, even if you're a boxer who has trained to take punches to the face. Like a boxer, though, you can build up a certain amount of tolerance to pain such that you don't let it break you.

And that is the key, really. If someone insults you, it's gonna have that initial sting, no matter how psychologically "tough" you are. The question is really about how you respond to it. Are you going to break down and cry, start screaming incessantly at them, let it get under your skin for days/months/years until you snap? Or will you confront it, brush it aside, fire back a clever retort, or just smile at them?

If we know what insults us the most, then we can build a defense for it, and be ready to withstand such verbal attacks when they happen.

By looking deeper into Owen Benjamin's comment, we can start building our defenses by confronting the areas in which we are most vulnerable, and this starts with our pride.

The biggest and strongest bucks also have the biggest antlers, which make it easier for them to get caught in bushes...
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What Do You Take Pride In?

On the surface, an area in which someone is prideful seems like the least vulnerable area for an insult. In fact, the opposite is true, for the very reason that an area in which you are prideful is also an area that you probably spend a good deal of your time.

If someone tries to make fun of me for being bad at basketball, then that won't really insult me very much, since I know I'm bad at basketball, and I've spent almost no time of my life trying to be good at basketball. If someone makes fun of me for being bad at tennis, though, that hurts a little bit more, since I practice tennis every week and have spent several years trying to be better at it. At the same time, though, I don't exactly take a ton of pride in my tennis game since I frequently lose to people and have a decent baseline for how good I am. If a random person were to make fun of my tennis game I'd just say "okay, let's play and see how good you are."

This brings us to the crux of the matter: people with true confidence are not easily offended, but people with false confidence are.

Interestingly enough, pride usually comes with false confidence rather than true confidence. Why? Because people with false confidence usually use pride as a smokescreen...a sort of misdirection in hopes that people don't notice their flaws. The guy who struts around proclaiming that he could kick anyone's ass has probably never been in an actual fight (or he has only been in fights with people who he's well overmatched with). Someone with true confidence in their fighting ability wouldn't need to proclaim it, because it would be obvious to them.

Behind a prideful person is someone with deeply embedded insecurities...dark corridors in their otherwise sky-high self-esteem down which they dare not venture. When these insecurities are brought into the open in a public setting, the person is likely to be insulted by it. The response depends on the person. Usually, men are likely to get enraged, and I'm sure many a fight have started with this pretense. Women have different ways of dealing with insults. The most common response in my experience is that they get very quiet and then hold a grudge for decades.

Pride doesn't always mask known insecurities, though. Sometimes, people are genuinely caught off guard by an insult. In Owen's example, he talks about how making fun of a 400 lb guy's weight won't affect him, but making fun of someone who is 10 lbs overweight likely will. In my mind, there can be 2 possible cases for this. The first (and more likely) case is that the person who is 10 lbs overweight used to be in better shape, and still has the residual pride from their past physique. In their mind, they still have a near-perfect body, so any information contrary to this is likely to be met with emotional resistance.

The other case involves someone who is coming from the opposite extreme: they were once much heavier, and have done a lot to better their physical condition, which they take pride in. They were probably used to people making fun of them when they were heavily overweight, but now that they are thinner, they feel like the problem is "solved". If they get made fun of at their current weight in the same way that they got made fun of at their past weight, then they will get discouraged that the work they've done to better themselves has apparently not gained them anything. If this is the case, then in order to deflect the insult one must acknowledge their results and feel good about them, but understand that the journey is not yet complete.

The other example that Owen gives is making fun of a man by saying that his wife is too hot for him, and suggesting that she would be happier with a younger, more vibrant man. This can be a killer for the guy, because he is likely proud of the fact that he landed a hot wife, but suggesting that his wife is "too hot" for him implies that he is unworthy of her, and that she is only with him because of his money or other characteristics. This may be something that has always been in the back of his mind but that he's dared not acknowledge, or could play on existing fears that he has of his wife cheating on him. If a man gets angry at the suggestion that his wife is "too hot" for him, then it reveals his own insecurities about himself and their relationship. If a man is confident in both himself and in their marriage, then he would just respond happily with "yeah she is!"

Putting It All Together

We've analyzed some of the different ways in which pride can be used against you, but how can this knowledge be used to make you impervious to a verbal attack?

In order to not let your pride get slapped in your face, you must confront it before anyone else does. The element of surprise is what gives many insults their sting, if you aren't surprised by anything people say about you, then it likely won't affect you. An obese person (hopefully) knows they are obese, so pointing this out to them isn't telling them something they don't already know. In other cases, though, your imperfections are less obvious, and take some hard looking in the mirror (in both a literal and metaphorical sense).

Now, this has a major drawback: your self-esteem usually plummets if you've done some constructive self-reflection. On the plus side, you aren't as susceptible to being insulted (because you've basically already insulted yourself)...but you also lose some of your pride.

Early in college when I was learning a lot of new things I would happily say to myself "the more you know, the less you don't know." I said this with the youthful vigor of someone who thought he was on the cusp of complete knowledge...enlightenment, if you will. Later, though, I changed the saying to something similar to Aristotle's quote "the more you know, the more you know you don't know." I came to this realization because every time I learned something new (in my case regarding math, science, engineering) it unlocked a whole new world of knowledge (and problems) that I previously didn't know existed. I thought I was really close to completing the journey, but instead realized I had only just left my front yard.

When you take a hard look at yourself, you start to realize that many of your accomplishments aren't quite as exceptional as you may have thought. It's a depressing realization, but ultimately useful if you wish to better yourself. Life is in some ways like a video game, every time you accomplish something, you "level up", and the game just gets harder. If you constantly feel like you are on top of the world, then you likely aren't "leveling up", and thus aren't improving yourself.

Some Real-Life Examples

Here are some ways in which pride can cause you to become overly emotional about an otherwise mundane stimulus:

Work/school: your job and/or field of study is likely an area in which you take some pride, because it's probably what you spend most of your time doing. At work and/or school you will often have to complete projects in which you spend a great amount of time and effort. In some cases, you'll feel really good about a project and think "wow, I did a really great job on that, go me!" This makes it pretty demoralizing when your superiors at work or teachers/professors in school give you negative feedback on the project that shows areas in which you didn't do well. Even if they say you did an overall good job, the expectations you had of the work being "perfect" are not met with the reality that it could have been improved. The simple defense for this is to not prematurely celebrate a job well done until after you get feedback on the project. Submit it with a bit of apprehension so that you are ready for an onslaught of criticism. Then, you can more effectively deal with this criticism when it comes.

Social Interactions with Friends: When people hang out with their friends, there is probably going to be some lighthearted riffing that goes on, in which you playfully make fun of each other. In a weird way, this is a sign of true friendship, as most people are only comfortable poking fun at people with whom they feel a close connection. If you're involved in these interactions, you definitely don't want to be the person who gets offended by something trivial and whines about it, because then the other people in the group will behind your back say "oh no, we can't have fun with them anymore, they can't take it", and you'll be deprived of future interactions. You also don't want to be the person who gets overly offended by something and instead of whining about it, you launch a "below the belt" insult at the other person that causes the friendly riffing to take a dark turn.

Ideally, you want to absorb the insults, and then fire back a clever (but not malicious) insult in return, which then puts the other person on the defensive. To do this, you have to try to anticipate what sorts of insults will be thrown at you, and then plan your counterattack before you're even insulted. This will involve doing the self reflection I discussed earlier, where you take a long hard look at all the things you take pride in, and then think of ways in which the pride may be undeserved. Once you're insulted, a way of absorbing insults that I've found useful is to just own them, i.e. take pride in the things that you're being insulted for. If you do this well enough, you may not even have to fire back a "return insult" because the fact that your friend's insult didn't affect you is an insult in itself.

Online Arguments: While it's tempting to start or escalate an argument online, whether it be with a total stranger on a forum or with your random acquaintance from high school who you haven't seen in years, it's really best to just avoid these exchanges altogether. That said, it can be pretty entertaining to troll people's comments with intentionally ignorant opinions just to make everyone mad, but do this with extreme caution as many people may think you are being serious, which can, in some cases, lead to a loss of friends and/or loss of employment.

Conclusion

While pride on the surface seems like a good thing, it can in fact be ammunition that is used against you. Be very wary of the ways in which you are arrogant, and take some time to reflect on if your arrogance is deserved. To quote a Rush song: "sometimes our big splashes are just ripples in a pool." That said, sometimes arrogance is indeed deserved, but just remember that there is nothing people love more than watching an arrogant person embarrass themselves (and nothing that people love less than seeing an arrogant person succeed). So, always think before you trash talk, and just know that you are setting yourself up for embarrassment if you do.

 

 

 

 

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