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To Disparage is Simple, To Discern Complex

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Waiting in the lobby following a theatrical performance, I overheard some young cast members expressing their admiration for actors who don’t disparage other actors.  Who not only avoid this ugly practice, but discourage others from doing so. I thought, what powerful teachers are those who model their advice.

Afterwards, while mulling over their comments, I imagined inserting myself in the conversation to mention that clearly, disparaging other actors doesn’t do anything to make you a better one.  Learning what to do and not to do based on the examination of other actors’ work, on the other hand, is valuable.

The same reasoning applies to any profession or aspect of life.  Disparaging other parents, or my own parents, for that matter, doesn’t do anything to make me a better parent.  Learning what to do and not to do based on observation of others’ parenting, however, is useful. Being discerning does not necessitate being disparaging.  

Unfortunately, disparaging one another has become a national pastime, from the general public, to celebrities, to our elected officials.  And social media provides a convenient forum for participating. It’s like a competition to see who can come up with the most derogatory comments the fastest.  The participants appear to be under the impression that this behavior reflects cleverness, intellectual superiority, and sophistication. Seems to me like just another form of bullying.  I think they call it cyberbullying. I’m pretty sure kids get in trouble when they are caught doing it.

For all the cleverness, intellect, and sophistication it supposedly demonstrates, disparaging others doesn’t seem to be accomplishing anything.  Disparaging invites disparaging. Bullying invites bullying. What a waste of time, energy, and brain cells.

Like any other destructive activity – accusing, belittling, complaining, hating – disparaging others is a lot easier to do than actually doing something to improve the situation.  These are all behaviors we resort to when we feel threatened, vulnerable, inadequate, and insecure. Self doubt painstakingly disguised as bravado. Such defensive reactions prevent any productive exchange from occurring.        

When we’re intent on composing the next witty comeback, we’re no longer listening. Whether any content from the original message had genuine merit gets lost in the crossfire.  When we choose to respond based on our initial impression, we fail to engage the self-monitoring part of our brain. Choosing instead to take a deep breath or count to ten, gives us time to activate the prefrontal cortex, increasing our chances of reacting more appropriately.  

While our immediate reaction, in any given situation, may be the most honest, the most revealing of our innermost self, it may not be the most beneficial.  Our first impression may not be the best one upon which to base our actions.  As the character, Elliott Anderson, in the movie, “Black or White” stated, “…it’s not my first thought that counts. It’s my second and third and fourth thought, and in each and every case…it comes down to the action.”  

We may not have complete control over the instantaneous internal reaction we experience when faced with controversy, but we certainly can control the action we choose to take.  We can choose to ignore disparaging comments. We can refuse to reciprocate. We can choose to be the grown up. As adults we should know better, but knowing better is meaningless if we don’t do better.  

Lively conversation and the passionate exchange of ideas can occur without disparaging one another.  Does there have to be a tragedy or crisis for us to transcend our differences? Do we just keep pretending not to see what we are doing to each other? What are we willing to sacrifice in our desperate quest to have the last word, the final brilliant retort? Imagine what we could accomplish if all that energy wasted on disparaging each other were directed toward discovering solutions that might benefit all of us.  And we are all US.  #DisparageNot 

Related blog posts:

Saying What’s On Your Mind

The Power of Words

What Our Words Say About Us

Under the Anger and Behind the Words

Can the Trash Talk

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