Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Queen of Confrontation

One of my favourite Seinfeld moments is from the episode where Elaine talks about this neighbour she met once at a party and kept saying hello to at a diminishing rate of excitement until one day he decided to stop. Elaine of course couldn't let that go. Here's the scene as described by her:

Elaine: So, I walked up behind him and I tapped him on the shoulder. And I said, “Hi, remember me?” And he furrows his brow, as if he’s really trying to figure it out. So I said to him, I said, “You little phony. You know exactly who I am.”

Jerry: You said "you little phony"?

Elaine: I did. I most certainly did. And he said, he goes, “Oh, yeah. You’re Jeanette’s friend. We did meet once.” And I said, “Well, how do you go from that to totally ignoring a person when they walk by?”

Jerry: This is amazing.

Elaine: And he says, he says, “Look, I just didn’t want to say hello anymore, All right?” And I said, “Fine. Fine. I didn’t want to say hello anymore either, but just I wanted you to know that I’m aware of it!”

Jerry: You are the Queen of Confrontation.

(End of Scene)

Now I can talk about the benefits of confrontation and how amazing it would be if everyone in our society faced up to one another and told them what they really thought. If only I had enough guts to confront every single person who I feel has wronged me, then maybe I would deserve the right to lecture people about it. But since I'm as chicken as everybody else, I won't.

Instead, I'll go to the other point that the story makes. When Elaine and the neighbour stopped "nodding" hello, she says that there was this "intense animosity" whenever they passed each other, which always makes me think how applicable this is to many people I've interacted with in one way or another. You know those people who you used to be friendly with and then for some reason you lose touch but they hang around your social circles? Don't you feel that instead of going back to being neutral and not really knowing them, you head the other direction and feel some kind of dislike developing? I guess there must be some subconscious reasoning that if the relationship did not develop towards a friendship, then the other person probably doesn't like you. I also think that people like to categorize others as positive or negative (positive being anything from funny to useful and negative being anything from boring to unreliable) and therefore, once we do get to know someone, we feel the need to put them in one box or the other.

However, I do find this phenomenon extremely interesting and I wonder if there is any way to avoid it. And I think, from my perspective, if there is anything the other person can do to return our relationship back to "neutral", but my mind draws a blank. Could it just be human nature?

1 comment:

Talal said...

I believe that facing up to people who wronged us can be more frightening than facing a herd of raging bulls, because with bulls you know you’d only be crushed, but people can be more brutal, no beast can compete.

I think that people tend to be most hurtful when they’re caught off guard, when confronted with their wrongdoings in this case, they can be almost randomly mean in their reaction that they will only know the extent of their meanness way after they’re done with it, and this meanness is what we fear most in a confrontation because it can be too damaging to our own sense of self-worth, the thing we mostly fear ... a crushed ego. This is what causes us to chicken out or play it safe and just suck it up and pretend that the wrongdoer is not there.

I’d say your best bet, since you say you’re not the confrontational type, is to prepare the one you’re confronting, someway or another, with the upcoming confrontation, of course provided that the purpose of this “showdown” is not finger pointing, but only getting them back to the neutral zone.

But of course, that's just me.

Neutrally yours,