On being … insulting

By Ingrid Sapona

I went to the Bulk Barn the other day to buy a few things. They didn’t have what I was looking for, but one of my favourite candies was on sale, so I scooped a few into a small baggie. As I put the twist tie on the bag, I made a mental note of the candy’s four-digit product code.

When it was my turn to be rung up, I put the baggie on the scale and told the cashier the code. She looked at me and kind of scowled as she typed it into the cash register. As she did so, she grumbled, “I’ve worked here many years”. I politely explained that I was just trying to be helpful. She scowled again and put the item in a bag as she told me the cost. Her obvious irritation took me by surprise and caused me to think about insults – about being insulting and feeling insulted.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been guilty of leveling an intentional insult or two. Of course, at the time of doing so, I always felt it was justified. But, the older I get, the more I realize that my momentary feelings of self-righteousness aren’t always well founded. And, as important, I’ve come to realize that insulting someone usually doesn’t change them or improve the situation. If anything, an insult often makes a bad situation worse, as people feeling belittled or insulted seek to even the score in whatever way they can.

When I realized the cashier felt insulted, I immediately checked in with myself to see whether – on some level – I intended to insult her. I concluded that I really didn’t intend to insult her in any way. I had only made note of the product code because I know cashiers must enter them to determine the cost. I even considered whether I might have made a sub-conscious assessment of her age or mental ability to remember all the different product codes. Since I hadn’t even looked at her after announcing the product code because I was busy fishing through my purse to find change, I really hadn’t paid any attention to her age or seniority.

On my way home, as I nibbled through the 60¢ worth of candy I bought, I couldn’t stop thinking about our brief conversation. I shuddered at how easy it is to misconstrue what someone says and why it is we sometimes feel insulted, even when absolutely no insult is intended. I felt bad knowing that she felt insulted, even though I knew I bore no real responsibility for her feeling that way. Indeed, I came away thinking that her interpretation was more a reflection of her self-esteem than of what was really said.

This little episode helped me see the difference between being insulting and feeling insulted – and it helped me see that a person can feel insulted even when no one was actually being insulting. It’s also a good reminder of how easy it is to misinterpret words! So, in the end, this incident has made me think that next time I feel the sting of an insult, instead of trying to feel better by trying to decipher what the person was getting at, I should be looking inward to see why the comment triggered the feelings it did.

© 2017 Ingrid Sapona


On being … heard

By Ingrid Sapona

In the weeks between columns, the question of what to write about next kicks around in the back of my head. Then, invariably I notice my attention focuses on something a bit longer, or a bit sharper, than that thing might seem to warrant. Next thing I know, I’m considering whether there’s an On being… there. That’s what happened this week.

I’ve got about a 30-minute commute and I’ve taken to tuning into a few different podcasts to liven up the drive. One is Presidential, a podcast recorded in 2016 by a Washington Post journalist. Another is The Room Where It’s Happening, which is an homage to Hamilton (the musical). And when I know I’ll be in the car for a bit longer, I sometimes mix in an episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History.

The format for each podcast is very different. In Presidential, the host (Lillian Cunningham) interviews biographers and historians about the featured President. But, she doesn’t just talk about his boyhood or his presidential achievements. Instead, she chooses a theme and then examines the particular President through that lens. For example, for Benjamin Harrison she focused on his conservation work.

The Room Where It’s Happening is more like a radio talk show. The hosts (Travon Free and Mike Drucker) basically sit around and talk about Hamilton with other millennials from the entertainment or arts community. Besides being fun to listen to them wax poetic about the musical (“geek out”, as they describe it), their insights into the creative process and to American culture (particularly the hip hop culture), is very interesting.

Gladwell’s Revisionist History is the most scripted of the three. Though some episodes of the podcast include snippets of interviews or conversations Gladwell might have had in researching the topic at hand, each episode is basically a finely crafted essay. 

Podcasts aren’t the only audio treat I indulge in on my commute. I also listen to the occasional audio book. I discovered them a couple years ago when I was browsing my public library’s digital catalogue. I like them so much, even if the digital version is currently available, I willingly add my name to the waiting list for the library’s lone audio copy.

As it happens, this week my hold for the audio book “A Gentleman in Moscow” came in. I downloaded it to my phone and began listening. The combination of the reader’s charming British accent and author Amor Towles’ lyrical descriptions captivated me from the start. 

It was in switching to the audio book that I started contemplating the different experiences I was having with each. I also began thinking about how hearing and listening are related, but they aren’t the same thing. Indeed, though the podcasts and audio books are based on the same types of auditory stimuli – words as opposed to music, for example – each engages my mind in different ways and on different levels. How cool is that?

The experience of listening to the spoken word on my commute to/from work was definitely the initial inspiration for today’s column. When I sat down to begin writing, I planned on a title that had to do with the sensory experience of listening. And yet, no title felt quite right because all I could focus on was the notion of being heard, which didn’t seem related to what I planned on writing about the podcasts and audio books.

As I played around with different titles, I realized that, in fact, what’s consumed so much of my subconscious energy lately is the feeling that I’m not being heard. This feeling isn’t new – it’s happened before, but right now it seems to be happening at work and at home.

As soon as I owned up to the title of this column, I realized the reason the podcasts and audio books have been making such an impression on me lately. It’s precisely because I’ve been struggling to figure out how to make my own voice heard.

Funny how the mind works, eh? It’s always looking for inspiration and ways to help you with your personal struggles. The trick is figuring out what it’s telling you…

© 2017 Ingrid Sapona