I remember once I lost my temper with somebody, which wasn’t a good thing. All the apologies in the world don’t make it right. And it doesn’t matter that I hadn’t seriously lost my temper in at least four years before that, or that I can count on my hands the number of times that the red mist had descended. Because I lost my temper, and I shouldn’t have. (You will be pleased to know that I have since found my temper, and it is firmly locked up in a chest with double padlocks and a combination lock, in a cupboard at the end of a secret tunnel.) Actually, somebody helped me build that metaphorical secret tunnel.
A few weeks back I read about the blokes that like to call themselves pick-up artists, and the techniques that they use in their “art” (shudder). The one thing I noticed was the put down, where they seem to compliment you and then take it away in the next breath. The idea is that you hang around and do stuff to get the unmitigated compliment. Only, it doesn’t just happen with guys trying to get girls. I call the people that do it Put-Down Artists. You know the lines.
“It’s a lovely cake. If you could just get the balance of the icing right.”
“You’d be so pretty if you just wore make-up.”
“You’re fine just the way you are. But you can be a bit loud, you know?”
If. But. Except. Although. Put-Down Artists want to sound like they are being nice, without having to actually be nice. They want to be better, cleverer, wiser, more attractive than you. They want you to be running around after their approval so that they can feel better about themselves. It was a Put-Down Artist who dealt with me badly after I lost my temper. I knew I’d made a mistake. I really didn’t need my nose rubbed in it.
But I choose not to be ashamed of my mistakes, but rather to learn from them. So I found somebody else to talk to, and asked about it. Because the fact is, if I had been in a society where I understood the rules, where I had grown up, I would have been able to identify the signs much sooner and it just wouldn’t have gone that way. So, realising I wouldn’t be able to spot the signs in other people that they were about to say something that would make my head blow off, I wanted to know what could be done. (Actually, I wanted to be told that it was alright to have done what I did. But that didn’t happen.)
“No, Rox. You can do better than that. What kind of an example is that?” (Which, looking at it sounds an awful lot like what the Put Down Artist people like to say to me.)
“But how could I do it differently? Anything I said would have come out angry.”
“Silence is good. And sometimes you just have to get up and walk away. It doesn’t matter if you look rude, you just walk away. And then you talk about it when you can discuss it more calmly.”
And that’s what made it not a Put-Down Artist exchange. She went out of her way to explain to me what could be done. She told me the pitfalls of the approach (I can verify that when you walk away from a situation to avoid losing your temper, people do in fact think you are rude), but also of the benefits. I haven’t lost my temper between that day and this.
Here’s the thing. There are times to tell people that they need to do better than that. Because people need to know what they are doing wrong, so that they can do it right. But you don’t just get to be critical and walk away. Put Down Artists are not cool. They are half way to bullies. If you want to tell somebody that they have done it wrong, you need to tell them when they’ve done it right. You need to be willing to say, this is how to fix it, and stay the path until it’s done. You need to be willing to accept that, on closer inspection, maybe they are not actually doing that bad a job.
My temper tunnel only came about because somebody was willing to go beyond just telling me off and telling me I could do better. And my temper tunnel means I am a much better person – I have more confidence in my ability to speak out about difficult situations, because I now a better way of dealing with things when negative comments arise.
So don’t be a Put-Down Artist – you might think you are clever, and witty and saving the world from unfortunate incidences (even if it is just badly made cake), but really? You are just breaking people. So you only look big because you make the people around you small. I want to look small because I have helped the people around me grow so big.
Some things just have to be said.