Sunday, May 15, 2016

Terms of endearment?

A lack of intent may reduce a charge of manslaughter to a finding of reckless homicide or other lesser crime, but does this also apply to insults? And what is the definition of an insult? I frequently call myself a 'Silly bitch', when I do something that I consider foolish, clumsy or occasionally just plain stupid. I think I got into that habit in order to get it said before someone else did.

I honestly do not think that I am a silly bitch in the true sense of the term, I do know that I am human and humans are not perfect (no matter what my less than smart ex boss told me in my one bad review - see this blog entry). I also know that when I say that, I am not instantly destroying my self esteem, despite popular belief. So why do I get so irritated when my husband calls me a knucklehead? I know that he doesn't believe I am stupid, no more than I believe it. I know that he considers it a term of endearment - but I also know that he gets very irritated with me when I call myself a silly bitch, a term I consider to be much less insulting than knucklehead.

So no, I don't think it is the intent that is the issue, it is the perception. Somewhat like the very tenuous (in my opinion) description of sexual harassment. "Harassment in a workplace, or other professional or social situation, involving the making of unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks" - and it does go to a more granular level, but only after the fact can it be established whether or not the behavior or remark is unwanted. Intention is not a factor, it is all about perception.

I grew up in an country and an era where the term silly bitch had to said with incredible anger and accompanied by much snarling and gritting of teeth before it would ever be considered an insult, but I don't ever remember hearing the term knucklehead until I met my husband. Therefore my perception is very different to his.

Of course we could go beyond perception into the realms of culture. Where knocking a man's hat off his head in Texas is quite possibly a shootable offense and most definitely highly insulting, whereas doing the same in Ireland could be taken as being playful. Even that is dependent on whether or not the parties involved know each other, and once again, on intention, because in both England and in the US, in law, knocking someones hat off is considered battery, that is - a physical assault. I watched my husband choose to ignore a particularly ignorant French person who found it amusing to knock his hat off his head on their first meeting. However, that initial meeting formed their future relationship, or lack thereof. And the very accurate gut feelings (see my blog entry here regarding gut feelings) that my husband formed regarding that particularly unsavory character.

I think I have talked myself into choosing to ignore minor insults particularly when the deliverer is someone I know and believe no insult is intended. And, even where an insult is intended it is up to me how I deal with it.

And here is an article by Neel Burton M.D.  that recommends exactly that reaction. While I had never heard of him before researching this article, I am now a fan. Check out his facebook page here.
"In conclusion, we need never take offense at an insult. Offense exists not in the insult but in our reaction to it, and our reactions are completely within our control. It is unreasonable to expect a boor to be anything but a boor; if we take offense at his bad behaviour, we have only ourselves to blame."

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