Monday, July 19, 2010

Put downs

A dear friend of the Center, Larry H., wrote the following:

What is the appropriate way to respond to put downs? Someone calls you a jerk or worse uses a profanity in name-calling. Perhaps one describes my behavior with sweeping generalizations, such as, "You always yell at me when I ask you to do something for me." Tempting as it is to fight fire with fire and return with similar name-calling or accusation, it may be more effective to ignore rude behavior or to respond by bringing attention to the feeling expressed by the individual issuing the put-down. Isn't it true that people who don't respect themselves frequently project those negative feelings onto others? My favorite reply to name-calling is the reply I've borrowed from Peewee Herman, namely, "I'm one, but what are you?" That may not make total sense, but at least it identifies what the other person is doing and simultaneously takes me off the hook for a response to the attempted insult. The Greek Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, also had a clever way to handle put downs. He said, “If you hear that someone is speaking ill of you, instead of trying to defend yourself you should say: "He obviously does not know me very well, since there are so many other faults he could have mentioned."
I personally have received much benefit from reading Epictetus. There's a little book of his sayings called The Enchiridion that I highly recommend.


  1. I may not always comment, Ellie, but I always read what you say carefully and I always find it thought-provoking and thoughtful, and I quite often come back and read each post two or three times, and think about it some more.

  2. Anonymous5:15 PM

    I would like to respond to Larry's question by saying this: it is ok to say to someone, "I can see you are angry and am willing to discuss whatever is bothering you. However, I do not appreciate being called names and prefer that you speak to me in a respectful tone." If they continue to be disrespectful, just walk away after telling them you will talk to them when they can be more appropriate.

    This way, you are acknowledging their feelings and taking care of yourself at the same time.

    annie c


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