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To retaliate or not to retaliate...

To retaliate or not to retaliate...

To retaliate or not to retaliate...
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By Shinie Antony  Mar 7, 2019 7:07:48 PM IST (Updated)

Someone’s just been horrible to you – what do you say, what do you do?

Someone’s just been horrible to you – what do you say, what do you do?

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We’ve all been through humiliation, private and public. These seem magnified in the present tense, though as life goes on and if you haven’t killed yourself over it, you turn it into a funny story to say at parties or you remember it in a faraway foggy way. We all have coping mechanisms in place, honed from high-school days, when we were neither popular nor had movie-star looks. Not that we go on to have these things, but we do get over our self-imposed tragedies with age.
But as a nasty exchange unfolds or some mudslinging comes your way, how exactly do you react? Do you sit still, sagely reflecting that this too shall pass, or do you stand up and make a scene? Of course, if you don’t hotly contest immediately, the moment is soon over, and somebody else is being humiliated. It is difficult then to add a cool touch to your rebuttal.
It is a case of ‘I don’t take any shit’ vs. thick skin. The former live their life hot-headed and giving as good as they get. The latter is more laid-back, and couldn’t care less about being called spineless. Of course, there is no 'one-size-fits-all’ law here. A tranquil person can detonate suddenly only because that was the last straw. The official aggressor may back off as he had nothing to eat all day. But, by and large, we have an instinctive way to deal with unprovoked and undeserved criticism.
You know that feeling when you are thinking which ice cream to eat and your senior colleague (or mother-in-law) says, ‘How much you eat!’ You pause – as frozen as the ice cream you are contemplating – because you know you have a choice; laugh it off and go without ice cream or snarl spectacularly and eat all of it. A third way also occurs to you: to eat just how much ice cream you always intended to and not glance once at the meanies. A middle path of resistance, where you continue to be unflappably you.
We all have unique means of combating onslaughts we don’t see coming. It is a fight or flight thing, coded into our DNA from caveman days. How then do we distinguish between what we must genuinely take to heart and what we should pooh-pooh?
Perhaps it's best to be underwhelmed in professional settings. Knee-jerk blows in the workplace may come back to bite as demotions or sudden transfers to impenetrable suburbs. Also, why let anyone get to you – when the ‘anyone’ is insignificant in your life? We talk here not of pretended but genuine indifference.
In the personal arena, however, feel free to go with your gut. It matters that your child or spouse or parent feels a certain way and you set things right, whether you are the one who offended or the one who got offended.
Everywhere else flash a bland smile and maintain a Buddha face. Which doesn’t mean you haven’t taken note of the slight – but that you have distance and perspective. Let only those you love get under your skin. The rest can keep barking.
Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival.
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