Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Tin Man on a flag pole

I have seen a pattern over the course of my life that I started noticing in high school. This pattern has continued to this day and I am not exactly sure why. For some reason, people in my life feel complete freedom to verbally assault me whenever they feel that I need to learn a lesson. Its strange, really, but true.

Now normally these people are kind individuals who are generally gracious and good natured toward the average person. But like the Tin Man standing on a flag pole in the middle of a thunderstorm, I attract all kinds of verbal lightening. Now before you accuse me of a pity party, let me give you some examples.

A girl that I haven't talked to in 8 years emailed me two months ago. Her opening email was about two pages long single spaced. She managed to gently remind me about how "arrogant" I am. Not how "arrogant" I was or used to be. She somehow mustered the nerve to call me "presently" arrogant even though she hasn't seen me in years. Normally, she wouldn't say an unkind word to those around her. But she wrote this with the ease of a soldier writing home to his family.

I have had other such instances in college where various expletives would fly out of people's mouths who rarely, if ever, have a negative word towards another soul. But toward me, it seems, they feel a special freedom to "let'er rip!"

Now you must be assuming that I am a royal jerk in order for these unfortunate occurrences to happen to me. And I will be honest, I can be a real ass sometimes. But those who know me best are the least likely to have these fits of verbal diarrhea. The two characteristics that seem to be consistent over the years are that these people are girls who I am friends with but not extremely close with.

One such instance happened a few days ago. Apparently my sarcasm is deadly and deeply offends people. Because of this, I was kindly reminded that I was not good at loving people and need to work on that. This verbal attack continued for some time and just happened to be in front of 4 other leaders in our church.

Now, normally this person attacking my character and general ability to love has nothing but kind things to say to people. She is generally outgoing and pleasant with the world around her. But for some reason, the lighting came and it came with force. I make it a point not to attack back when this happens. Not because I am some holy saint of a person. More because when a verbal lashing happens in public, the person lashing out usually ends up looking like a fool. If I return the favor, I become the fool as well. And since I am already being degraded at the moment, I figure I don't need to add to people's poor impression of who I am.

I can say that I generally would not have the audacity to publicly assault someone verbally. I can't say that I would ever feel comfortable outright calling someone arrogant that I haven't seen for 8 years. I definitely wouldn't cuss someone out, at least not out loud, especially if they were a friend of mine. So why have these things happened to me on a consistent basis?

Does anyone else deal with this? Do people in your life feel like they can unload insults on you even though you don't return fire? It could just be me.


At 4:39 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

Yeah, I've seen you receive some over the years... can't say I've ever experienced the same thing myself. But then again, I've no Mark Stephenson when it comes to the ladies. ;-)

At 6:33 PM, Blogger Mark said...

I am glad that its not just me who has noticed this phenomenon. Thanks man.

At 8:53 PM, Blogger brendar said...

Mark I don't know you very well but I do know myself. You may have heard the jabs around the smoking table about my only two qualities being sarcasm and negativity. This is a reputation that I have earned over years of mocking, belittling and embarrassing others toward the purpose of self aggrandizement (or what I would call "just being funny"). This has been and will be a constant battle in my life and I will never be free from it in this life because I can never redeem what I have done to others. I have no high ground from which to view your personality and certainly cannot and would not accuse you of similar sin. I only know that you post smacks familiarly.

At 2:06 AM, Blogger CM said...

Hey friend! You have such a way with the women! Do you need me to come back and do some smacking around? Miss ya man!

At 11:41 AM, Blogger Dave R. said...

Yeah. I know what you mean. When people attack me in public,I dont respond verbally either. I find a swift kick to the "naughty place" speaks volumes.

At 1:28 PM, Blogger brendar said...

...or the old 5 on 2!

At 3:09 PM, Blogger tali said...

hah! it's not just me! a thousand blessings on you and your house, mark stephenson.

seriously - the only help i've found is to remember that even though i'm comfortable with my attitude and sense of humor, there will always be people who misread it. then i try to be pragmatic about it.

(which means, unfortunately, that i also don't get to be angry at the other person)

At 1:33 PM, Blogger The Table Guy said...


Your depth and wisdom abound. The longer we have been friends the more I appreciate you as a healthy, mature brother in Christ-someone I'm glad to have as a friend and someone that I can learn from.

I've hated to see you endure such attacks. You do mix your signals sometimes, but I think being baffled by these types of attacks, especially considering the kind of people they're coming from, is valid.

At 8:21 AM, Blogger Dave R. said...

ok, enough of this. Awww, poor Mark, he gets attacked by girls. Whaaaaaaaa.

Suck it up, bro. These kinds of things are rarely one sided. I usually assume that if someone is upset enough at me to "go off on me" that I have in some way been an ass.

What Tali said is true as well. Part of having good relationships with people is knowing how to read them.
This is not easy. I am always crossing that line. But usually you can ascertain fairly quickly who you can be sarcastic with and who you can't, or who you can be crude and vulgar with and who you can't.

In relationships there has to be adaptation. You can have the outlook that "well, that's just how I am so if they dont like it, tough." This assumes that the other person should adapt to you and your personality if they wish to have a relationship with you. The other approach is to try to adapt your personality to fit theirs. This is not as easy, but at least it is under your control. The best relationships result when both adapt a bit.

At 12:51 AM, Blogger tali said...

which is a shame really - a friend who accepts you only when you change to suit them can't really expect anything more than a superficial friendship.

At 11:17 PM, Blogger Myles said...

last week, i went out to a show in town and in the course of the evening, was unloaded on by two different complete strangers that felt it their duty to assault my person. i think i invite verbal assaults. maybe it's tattooed in invisible ink.

At 2:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

JeffMount said...

I'm surprised by how little fire I draw for my sarcasm and arrogance. I think I'm more apt to recieve disdain from non-Christian co-workers who have a low standard of work ethic and proficiency...i.e.-my confidence in my own ability makes their weaknesses more obvious.

By the way, Mark, I've been meaning to talk to you about your arrogance, you sarcastic @!#$!!! It deeply hurts and offends me, and you really need to change the way you do things if you ever expect to love people well. So, whenever we can get together with about a dozen other close friends and rip you to shreds, let me know.

(the preceding post was a sarcastic counter-attack at folks who have way too high expectations of other people's sensitivity and way too low expectations of themselves---don't change, Mark)


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