Sunday, August 30, 2009

Drunk and Disorderly

Last night, I had the misplaced pleasure of spending time with a person who actively doesn't like me. As the night progressed, I grew to dislike him right back.

It's unclear as to whether or not this person (let's call him Ted) is specific in his dislike - i.e., me alone - or if he's an misanthrope, or if he was just drunk and being a shit-disturbing ass. It's possible that he was and is all three. Anyway, Ted informed me that I was "outclassed," conversationally. He did this about ten minutes before he drunkenly face-planted trying to hop a fence.

Obviously, this kind of behaviour bothers me a little. It's not impossible that I was outclassed - I'm smart, but I'm not a rhetorician - but the primary concern I have with people like Ted, people who pick fights because they're smart, drunk, bored, want to seem impressive, or whatever other reason, is that often, they're not very good at it.

We all know that blowhard who insists that American football < soccer < "football" (and occasionally, for extra cheese, he throws in rugby to confuse and annoy everyone), but it takes some seriously misguided cojones to sit in a crowded bar and rail about the Jews controlling everything. Even though it was in jest (or so he claims), there are social settings in which one should refrain from shouting about ZOG and its minions. Those settings include: everywhere, all the time.

In addition to the offensive and personal attacks Ted made on his friends and tablemates, there was the problem with his conversation style. He slurred and mumbled, which led to my asking "What?" (as in pardon me, please repeat that; not as in I don't understand what you're talking about), which led Ted to make fun of me for not grasping his concepts. The "concepts" (such as they were) fell from that highly respected school of drunk pseudo-smart conversation. Make a broad and offensive claim, wait for the indignant response, and then mock for either "falling for it" or up the ante to even more offensive schtick.

I did, in fact, fall for it: my liberal education has sort of trained me to raised up them hackles when someone says shit like "The Holocaust didn't happen," even if it's supposed to be a hilarious joke.

The problem was two-fold: Ted was drunk, whereas I was sober; furthermore, Ted hasn't gone to university, whereas I have. Needing to prove that you can push past the drunken barrier and the educational fence must be tiring, and unfortunately seemed to have used all the energy reserves that otherwise would have gone into things like empathy and politeness. This is not uncommon among the drunk and surly set. Needing to be right becomes the top priority. If being right becomes impossible, sardonically dismissing the entire conversation (and the people engaging in it) as a joke saves a bit of face.

I used to engage with this type more. I enjoy a good argument - my parents can totally attest - and I also like being right. In recent years, I made the shift from "being right" to "being heard," which, alas, usually ends up being the same thing. Then I started paying more attention to how I actually felt during these so-called fun debates, and the truth is, they're not really all that fun.

Look, sitting down with friends and getting onto a potentially contentious topic is often a blast: gets the blood flowing, lets you get to know them better, and gives a safe space for healthy disagreement. But sitting down with a stranger who is hell-bent on hurting your feelings is, um, different. It's too close to an actual fight to make it interesting: I spend too much time being mad and not enough time being thoughtful. Plus, it totally makes my stomach hurt.

Anyway, it was educational, in a way. For instance, I learned that I don't want to see that dude again! I also learned that when I get faced with these chuckleheads who perceive my presence as some sort of personal threat or attack, I should just walk away. It's not worth it to me to be right or heard when I'm dealing with these guys (and they are usually guys, for some reason): it's worth it for me to be content.

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