On Defensiveness: Breathe, Listen, Reflect

I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to write about this week, especially since a lot of the topics I really care about are being covered by really awesome authors elsewhere.  But this one thing keeps coming up for me in my discussions with friends and family.

Defensiveness.

So I figure now’s as good a time to write about it as any.

Last week I got into a rather silly facebook argument about the level of snark and pretentiousness in a film review article that my friend wrote.  I thought the people who read the article as dead serious were missing his point, and, especially knowing the author, I feel strongly that he’s using pretension to mock pretentiousness in film criticism.  I found it hilarious.

My friends didn’t.  They found it snarky and rude.  So we went round and round about what we thought the tone of the article actually was and what the article accomplishes in turn.

And we were assholes.  I found the ways that I was being talked to demeaning and frustrating, but to be fair, I started it.  In my frustration, I was incredibly rude.

Then one of the folks I was arguing with said this to me in a private message: “You sounded very ‘mansplainy’ like we just weren’t smart enough to get it and that’s why we were offended by something we shouldn’t be offended by.”

DefensivenessIf I wasn’t defensive before, I got SUPER defensive in that moment.

I’m thinking, “Wait, WHAT?  So now I’m just a sexist, mansplainey asshole?  What a copout!”

I couldn’t help but feel like useless rhetoric about male sexism was being used because it would hit me, a man who tries to be pro-feminist, harder.

But then something simple happened.

The mail carrier knocked on the door, and my dog went bonkers.  I got her in control, and answered the door, signed for something, and came back.

That time allowed me to step back.  Then I took a deep breath, and I looked back over my comments.

I was being a jerk.

So I had to reflect on why I was feeling defensive.  I was defensive because I felt like the mean-spirited comments about the author were personally attacking my friend.  So I came back at them with vitriol, and in my vitriol, I fell into some patterns that are decidedly sexist: a man talking down to a group of women, pretending as if I knew all and knew better than them and, further, pretending that their interpretation and view point wasn’t legitimate.

And that’s wholly unacceptable.

So instead, I took a minute to breathe and reflect.  Then I wrote an honest apology for the way I had talked to other people in the discussion, and I owned what was making me defensive.

After all, the thing we were arguing about, the intent and impact of the article, actually had little to do with why I was feeling hot under the collar and red in the face.

And I had to own that.

So my friend taught me a good lesson that day.  She taught me that when I get defensive, I am that way for a reason, and I need to reflect on where that’s coming from so I can address that specifically rather than simply continuing to act like a defensive jerk.

I once had a wise friend tell me that if I ever find myself feeling defensive, it’s time for me to reflect.  Defensiveness is different from anger and frustration.  Defensiveness tends to be reflective of an area where our thoughts or actions are not aligning with our values.

In the argument about the article, I got defensive because my friend was being attacked.  What it engendered, though, was defensive outbursts that made other people feel pretty terrible.

So as hard as it may be, next time I find myself so defensive, I need to take my own advice.  I need to step back, breathe, listen, and reflect.

Then if I find that I was projecting my own business off on other people, as I was in being a jerk to my friends on facebook, then it’s my responsibility to apologize and try to do better.

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