This morning I had an interchange with someone I’ve known most of my life. It was prompted by an email in which he (given the number of males in the world, it won’t hurt if I mention gender) criticized an article to which I’d sent him a link.
Had the remarks been about the substance of the item, I would have given them careful attention. Instead, however, he chose to criticize the editing and the ability of the writer, barely mentioning the content at all. Since belittling others is an unfortunately common thing with him, I responded with “I wish I was perfect,” to which he took exception at some length.
I don’t know why this man, who has had some impressive accomplishments, is extremely intelligent by anyone’s standards, and who has lived a long, productive life, feels the need to constantly show his superiority by indicating how inept others are. Over the years he has (to my certain knowledge) alienated people with whom he might better have built bridges, by refusing to tone down his political and religious rhetoric and defending it all by saying — in effect — “I’ve gotta be me.”
So I more or less snapped, and told him exactly that. Yay me.
I don’t know why he does it, but I know why it annoys me so much: because it’s probably the most unpleasant of my own traits, and one that I’ve struggled with for a quarter of a century. In my case, I know the reasons. Poor self-esteem, shame and fear of intimacy have dogged me all my life, and I learned fairly early on that biting wit and belittling others in subtle ways were excellent ways to cover up my own fears and prevent anyone — God Forbid! — from getting too close and finding out who I really was. (Because, as most addicts seem to believe about themselves, if you knew who I really was, you wouldn’t want anything to do with me.) I’m a fairly classic case, in fact.
For a long time, I’ve been responding to this man’s criticisms of others with acerbic, passive-aggressive comments, and that has quite understandably pissed him off. I know the man well enough to realize that he’s not about to change, because he’s not introspective enough to see that change would be beneficial. But I don’t seem to know myself well enough to keep from reacting when I shouldn’t, and commenting on things that are none of my business.
Or maybe I do. Time will tell, as I’ve once again determined to simply delete such things and ignore them. That’s the kind thing to do, and it’s also by way of thanking him for reminding me, once again, how unattractive is my own tendency to be right rather than happy. I know I can change, because I’ve done a lot of it over the years — especially over the past several months. I’ll work a bit harder at it now, and I know I can’t change others, only myself.
But I wish I could. Just this once. He’d be so much happier in the long run…