Rudeness Is the Weak Person's Imitation of Strength

This particular wisdom hit me right between the eyes this morning. I am currently reflecting on all the times I was "strong" in my life, and am slowly realizing they may have all been nothing heroic in the least, but merely acts of rudeness. As I sit here typing, already needing to share this truth with my corner of the world, I am mentally going through a scrapbook of relationships and actions and decisions---that may have all been nothing more than insults.

It's nice to read an article where the author has actually mastered the skill they are sharing...but in today's post, that is not the case. I am writing this with the hope that my struggle with the fresh sting of realization (which is the force behind these words) will have the most impact for the reader.

As I struggle with this truth, rudeness is the weak person's imitation of strength, I am uncomfortable, because that spotlight of truth is surely searching for me and I must avoid it for fear of recognizing myself in these powerful words.

Therefore, I could take my discomfort and push it outward. This technique is definitely one I've employed in the past (blame someone else), but I know enough these days to see that's just a stalling technique. So I could declare that I've seen no profound examples of strength, only rudeness, and blame my elders and cultural leaders.

Or I could go inward and decide that I'm a tragically weak, mean, petty person with no hope for redemption and despair for a time, wallowing in my error of faux-strength and avoid others until I'm able to "come out and play well with others."

I could also reach back and locate the strong/rude times of my actions and acts and see, instead, that I knew on some level that I wasn't being strong. And the mere ability to so easily locate those memories, is proof enough that I was rude, unkind---even mean---to people that were a part of my life story. This sting I feel is a good sting, I want to go on the record with that.

As I sit in my discomfort caused by my identification with this truism, I can already feel the rising from the ashes that a lifetime of working on the value of being kind and honest hasn't been able to accomplish. I can look back and realize I was trying to be brave and to stand up for myself, both honorable goals, and missed the mark for lack of a better understanding of myself and others pain. In one sentence: I didn't know what I didn't know.

I can also project forward, sitting here alone at my keyboard, imagining my next interactions as I exit my home and enter the rude world, and see that I will respond differently. I will have more understanding and therefore tolerance (and dare I say compassion?) to impatient customers at my local grocery store, drivers who insist on cutting in before being waved through, people I pass on the sidewalk who won't look up and meet my eyes and smile.

We are all trying to appear, and to actually be, strong. We find instead in those dark nights of the soul, that we are often weak (or perhaps fragile is a better word). The only external evidence of a bridge to this gap has been a display of rudeness in the form of insults and judgment and anger. I see now the politicians, the radio hosts, my past supervisors, and even my estranged family, former lovers, lost friends...were all about appearing strong, when they were feeling weakest.

Maybe my efforts at learning and teaching human kindness all these years (commonly called "people skills" or "leadership development") has allowed me to view this epiphany with something much more profound then self-disgust. I am unable to find the self-blame. But what is more important to me, is that I can't find the blame of others either. That 'sore tooth' I always ran my mental tongue over, seems to be missing this morning. One phrase, "Rudeness is the weak person's imitation of strength," has set my emotional world on its ear.

I see now that I and the other people in my life, were trying to appear strong, or at least not vulnerable to hurt. The words we used to communicate this natural survival skill were steeped in unkindness because they were meant to create a safe distance. The rudeness was--and is--an attempt at self-protection, self-support, a misguided show of inner resolve and strength to be our own advocates. It was meant to be a vote for ourselves.

But if your life is anything like mine (and I know only one thing after years and years of working with people in conflict---everyone's life is filled with regret and pain and self-judgment, no matter how cleverly concealed to the outside world), you now see that your show of strength did not meet your true goal. That the reason we can locate these stories and memories so quickly, is because they still hurt, still feel wrong, still cause pain. Our rudeness, our unkindness to another human being, was not in alignment with our true intention.

Our true intention is the same at our core: we want to show another that we are indeed our own advocate. We are eternally-focused on ensuring no harm be done to ourselves. The struggle with this only happens because we are also sure---in our deepest selves---that this can be done without harming another in the process.

In the end, rudeness hurts. Manners and etiquette and active listening and the rest of human-made communication skills, are intended to ensure that kindness wins in the end. That to be my own advocate never means that I have to undermine your own self-advocacy. A difficult task, a tough balance, an impossible feat---or so I thought----until I saw that rudeness is your cue to me that you are feeling weak.

And with that secret code now broken, I can find my own inner strength and turn the interaction to one of human understanding.

Return from "Rudeness" to Work Stress Articles.

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