There’s the thrust-and-retreat form of insult and the oddly malice-free kind. The first is kind of cowardly and the latter is… well, refreshing.
The former is that innocuous, yet slightly venomous remark that tends to conclude with the phrase just kidding.
“Did you mean for your hair to look like that? Just kidding.”
“Gee, I’m glad you didn’t go to any extra effort just because I was dropping by. Oh, you know me; I’m just kidding.”
As though hanging those two words on the back end of a disparaging remark excuses everything that came before them.
Let’s not dwell on that type. Or the big old pooh-pooh heads who insist on using them. I’m convinced there’s a nice little purgatory reserved for purveyors of that form of critique. Instead, let’s move on to the fun kind.
I just can’t find it in my heart to take umbrage at good, unfettered insults, frequently delivered by people stating a simple truth who perhaps haven’t considered the full ramifications of what they’ve just said. Here are a couple of examples.
A play I’ve written is currently in performance in my own home town. I asked a friend a few days ago if he would like to come see it. His response was this: “Well, I don’t know. I need to know what the play’s about and how much tickets are, before I know whether or not I would be interested.”
Clearly, the fact that I wrote it has little to no influence over whether or not he’ll attend…
I gave a moment’s thought to being indignant about this, but, honestly, why should I? I asked a straightforward question, and he gave me a straightforward response. Had I been in his shoes and had someone asked me the same question, I probably would have stuttered and stammered and eventually answered, “Oh, uh… sure.” Whether I really wanted to, or not. And then I would have been annoyed at myself for promising to do something that perhaps I really didn’t want to do.
Some years back, a teenaged girl who knew that I was involved in a lot of community theatre asked me why, if I liked theatre and acting so much, I wasn’t pursuing a professional career in the field. I gave her a tedious, long-winded answer explaining how difficult it is to break into the business, and how hard it is to make a decent living as an actor, and many more reasons on top of those. She listened patiently, nodding, and when I finally rambled to a close, she said, “Plus, you’re pretty old. It’s probably too late for you, anyway.”
I’m sure my jaw dropped an inch or two. But it was so clear that this young woman was stating what she saw as an obvious fact that all I could do was agree. And admire her. She wasn’t being mean; she just called things exactly as she saw them, without the tedious extra step of sugar-coating them. Plus, she’s given me a great story that I never get tired of repeating.
Now, to be clear, I don’t advocate blunt candor, necessarily. I’m just saying let’s not be afraid of it. Or get too riled up about it. In a world which increasingly requires us to tippy-toe around every potentially politically incorrect scenario, a little unvarnished honesty is not a bad way to help keep our egos in check.