It’s how you say it

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Talking down to friends, family, and teammates can only weaken the links

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. October 21, 2015

The act of belittling another verbally, whether it’s in a work environment or in a social setting, is so offensive that often I regret not responding physically. True, we might have messed up, dropped a ball here or there, but regardless of the situation, neither you nor I should be talked down to. However, we must also be cautious to not ridicule and belittle others.

We’ve all had to work with someone who didn’t have the same level of skill in a particular task as we did. When I say work, I also include other team activities such as sports. Life is all about teamwork, and the old adage rings true: “You’re only as strong as your weakest link.” While you may think that calling out another’s shortcomings or ridiculing them publically in front of their peers is an effective way of motivating them to improve, it is not!

What you must understand is that not everyone shares the same level of interest or passion as you in any given project. Believe me, if you shame someone enough times, especially in a team environment where trust and loyalty is paramount, you’ve lost them. They’ll find new friends, get another job, and avoid you completely. Nothing you do is special enough to mistreat others over. People will get fed up, angry, and often retaliate. This can be incredibly destructive.

If you think that others should pick up the slack, you should really look in the mirror and ask yourself: Are you the top performer? Are you the best on your team? Are you literally better than everyone else you work with? If you are, what the hell are you doing with these losers? Go pick on someone your own size. If not, then shut up! This looking down on people is the same vain and arrogant way of thinking that makes you ugly, regardless of how you look.

There is only so far you can push other people before they push back. If you don’t establish camaraderie first, then there is no balance between the team. There is a reason why in every creative writing class students are encouraged to note something good before mentioning something bad. It’s not because we are sensitive and we need things sugarcoated. It’s because we are human and we have feelings. We are all equals in the grand scheme of things.

We all know how it feels to be talked down to. You may have been on the receiving end of a situation I described above, with a team member or friend telling you you weren’t good enough. As a younger adult, like many college students are, I often feel that the older generation—those with full-time jobs, children, and a retirement plan—cannot help but lecture me. I’m not talking about helpful advice; I’m talking about critical, judgmental assessment of my values, pursuits, and character. Some of them speak as if I’m entitled, inconsiderate, disrespectful, ungrateful, or unmotivated. Ultimately, a conversation with these older people becomes a vicious assault of guilt and shame.

Life is too short to spend your time being put down by an employer, spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend, or teammate. Life is too short to be spent with people who don’t appreciate you for your efforts. If you find yourself in defence mode all the time, get out of the situation now. The best way to retaliate to those talking down to you is to leave, completely.

Attention to apathy

Image by Joel McCarthy

Why bystander blaming is far from the solution

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published by The Other Press. March 10, 2015

Mind your own business and stand up for what is right. Those two contradicting sentiments have led to many problems over the years as they’ve supplied fuel for revolutions and weakness towards authorities. We blame children for letting their peers get bullied; yet we punish them for confronting their demons. It’s a messy world and while awareness may be a method to clean things up, calling out people for not lending a hand is just poison to ourselves.

When it comes to the bystander effect and how we are moulded by it, I often bring up the example of a car accident. You are in a car and the vehicle ahead of you in the next lane merges, striking another car, and careens to the edge of the road. Do you a) stop and assist or b) continue driving? Most of us would like to think that we would choose the first option. It seems like the most reasonable choice, however, less than half of all people in that position would actually stop and help. With every passing moment the likelihood of help from bystanders decreases, and the more public the incident, the less likely anyone will assist at all.

But what does help really mean? We are not professionally trained; we are not a part of an emergency response unit. Should we make a situation worse, we can ultimately be hit with a lawsuit. There is a clear reason why being a bystander often makes sense. We don’t actually know what is happening or the level of severity.

Physical altercations and bullying are two scenarios people love to blame on bystanders for playing the part of spectators. I don’t know if you have ever jumped into a middle of a fistfight before, but it isn’t as easy as removing a magnet from the fridge. In a moment of intensity, people can be unpredictable. You never know if someone is hiding a weapon or is capable of doing physical harm. Social injustice is worth sticking up for, but two drunken people arguing on Granville is none of your business. Get the hell out of there.

Yes, if I was in a dire situation, I would want someone to save me, but would I ever blame a stranger for not stepping in to protect me? I sure hope not. We are all bystanders in someone else’s life. Everybody has problems and some rise to the surface like sweat. You cannot expect people to wipe it off for you.

Friendly fire


When do friendly insults become hurtful?

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. March 3, 2015

While some dub it as a masculine trait, others label it as immaturity. I’m speaking of the act of friendly insults: when we call our friends “losers,” “bitches,” or “idiots” for fun. Even though this type of interaction varies from friend circle to friend circle, and each cultural group reacts differently to name-callings and put-downs, we all have experienced friendly fire at one point or another. The question isn’t if it exists, but when too much is too much.

How fine is the line between bullying and simply being vulgar for the sake of fun? No friendship begins by signing a term of agreement, saying that X amount of name-calling can be accepted. Usually, this type of behaviour evolves over time as comfort levels go up and social barriers go down.

I’ve worked in a restaurant with an all-male back-of-house staff, and that shaped the dynamic of the working environment greatly. I saw how men behaved with each other both as team members, friends, and leaders. At some point in the whole interaction, an individual is highlighted as both easy-going and resilient. That is the one who will become the butt of the joke, the one member of the team everyone is okay calling out without any repercussion.

You want to feel sorry for that lonely individual as others gang up on him. You want to help him or do what the anti-bullying ads advise and step in. But not when it’s friendly fire, not when the dude actually enjoys the attention.

If you find yourself as the guy who everyone is making fun of, know this: nobody will help you, because you’re laughing along with them. You are not in distress. You are not harassed. The interaction between you and your friends from the outside appears to be perfectly normal. If it bugs you, you’ll need to step up and say something.

Or you can stop the insults yourself. This type of interaction is not one-sided. More often than not, people only continue this trend because you are knocking it back into their court. Stop. Recognize that you are dishing as much as you are receiving and stop. Otherwise, it continues to be one vicious cycle.

I enjoy busting balls now and then. It’s a perfectly normal masculine expression of appreciation and tough love. But at some point, we do need to grow up. We need to treat our friends and peers with respect. We cannot go out in public and continue calling out our friends for their shortcomings when we are 40, 50, or 60 years old. At some point, too much is, in fact, too much.

The troll toll

Formerly published in The Other Press. Sept 24 2012

How to avoid trolls on the Internet

By Elliot Chan, Contributor

Opinions_trollA virus has struck the Internet. It is too late for a firewall, it is too late to do a full computer scan, and it is too late to unplug and re-plug your modem. Trolling is officially an epidemic in our online communities. If you have made a sincere comment or left a genuine opinion, a troll is not far away, hunched over their computer, preparing a patronizing reply.

Go to your computer and scroll down any comments list. You don’t have to go far to uncover the markings of a troll. They are ruthless, senseless, and ignorant creatures. Feed them enough negative reinforcement and soon they’ll be insulting your religion, your ideals, and even your mother. Like a junkie getting high off narcotics, trolls get a euphoric sensation from your aggravation. Stop, accept that they exist, and let their antagonizing words fade into the ether.

Although trolling is widespread, the websites that allow users to create their own aliases (Twitter, YouTube, etc.) are more commonly subjected to their antics. So until the day a law is made requiring all computer users’ identification to post comments, we must fend for ourselves. But how can we? The World Wide Web is such a vulnerable place. There are the mean streets of Facebook, the terrifying ghettos of Twitter, and the dark alleys of Reddit. How do we protect ourselves during our online explorations?

Remember, trolls are human beings. That is, they are bored, vulgar, and insecure human beings. That statement alone should make you feel better. But if you still feel victimized by their existence, try this option: kill them with kindness. You’d be surprised how effective positivity can be when following their curt comments. Kindness is troll kryptonite. Give them respect, but don’t linger long—they won’t return it.

As bullying continues in our physical world, cyber-bullying will survive in the virtual one. The Internet will always be home to intolerance, profanity, and slander. But the website universe is vast; there is room for the passive surfers, the gracious Googlers, and the tepid browsers. After all, you don’t need to frequent the Internet that often anyways. The best way to avoid trolls and the temptation of becoming one is to explore the real world. Go out tonight, grab a drink with friends, and laugh over the fact that someone somewhere is unable to terrorize you through a computer screen.