Apples to Apples (aka: Dealing with Unpleasant People)

Do you ever find yourself in situations where you have to get along with an unpleasant person?

Believe it or not, in real life, I usually get along pretty well with most people. Whether or not we share the same background, or socioeconomic class, or culture, I can usually find common ground and hold a decent conversation with them. The trick, I think, is understanding. When I make it a point to try to understand the person I’m speaking with, it paves the way for positive interaction.

Usually.

Today, I had an unfortunate encounter with an unpleasant person.

No wait. Let me reword that. Today, I had an unpleasant encounter with a person. Because we are all people, and our bad moments do not necessarily make us bad people.

I went to a Meetup event, which I do from time to time, or else I would have zero social life (other than kids and water cooler chats with coworkers). This particular meetup event was for the purpose of speaking Spanish with other Spanish-language learners and native speakers. These events are often low-key — a couple of hours of exchanging polite, informal conversation with people of all ages, walks of life, and levels of Spanish.

For most of that time, I chatted with a group of three other people. We sipped coffee and tea and talked about all sorts of topics — pets, travel, work, music, even politics. We didn’t always agree, or share much in common, but we were able to enjoy one another’s company while helping each other to fill in that occasional Spanish word or phrase that eluded us.

That was the pleasant part.

However, after the others left, I turned toward the two remaining speakers, who had been engaged in their own conversation. It didn’t take long, however, before I noticed how one of the speakers was quite opinionated. Which only bothers me a little. The part that bothered me a lot, however, was that he gave of this air that his opinions were the only ones that counted. To top it off, he also had a tendency to not only correct other people’s Spanish, but to do so in a rather superior way, often cutting them off mid-sentence, and adding how he can’t stand it when people say things a different way, because it’s so wrong.

Still, due to my desire to get along with people, I continued to smile and ask questions, and encourage the flow of conversation. Perhaps, I thought, he was on the autistic spectrum, which could account for his hard-to-stomach interpersonal skills.

The last straw, however, came when the other speaker and I were discussing the importance of being familiar with the various ways Spanish speakers talk. I suggested that the most important thing about language is not to always speak with the best grammar possible, but to know how to best speak and be understood within a group of people. Well, he not only shot down my idea, but attempted to invalidate it completely. This happened more than once in the conversation. While I am perfectly at ease with differences of opinion, or with considering new facts that I may not have known, I cannot tolerate blatant disrespect.

“You know,” I finally said, when tactful hints failed, “you’d be easier to get along with if you were willing to admit that you don’t know everything.”

Now here, many intelligent people would say, “Well, of course I don’t know everything! There are many things I don’t know.”

But this guy says, “I know a LOT of things. I’ve taken some doctorate level classes.”

Seriously?

Just like that, I was done. Conversation over. The moment people demonstrate that they are not willing to learn, or to consider that they may not always be right, is the moment an exchange of ideas between intellectuals becomes a pointless waste of words. And honestly, life is too short for that.

My parting words? “I find your arrogance unpalatable.” To which, of course, he responded that he found me unpalatable. I laughed. It was like saying goodbye to an egotistical child. Too bad. His Spanish was actually pretty good. I could have learned something from him.

I guess I’m pretty lucky. I don’t often have to deal with unpleasant people. At least, not on a regular basis. Most people I encounter are generally pleasant. Or at least, polite. Coming across one who behaves to the contrary is like finding an apple with a worm inside. That person may actually be pretty decent once they cut away the bruised, wormy spot. Who knows? It’s not up to us to cut it away. Perhaps it’s not even up to us to point out the worm (though I did, in no unclear terms).

The part that is up to us is how we choose to react. When we encounter arrogance, or rudeness, or lack of respect, are we able to find the strength to respond with politeness and positivity? Or do we respond in kind, and expose our own wormy parts? (We all have wormy parts, buried deep inside).

Honestly, I’m not sure how I did today. Was it wormy of me to call him out on his arrogance and rudeness? Or did he need to hear it? Later, we exchanged messages on the Meetup app, both apologizing for our part in the conversation that went sour. Which was cool. We could have just as easily have never spoken again, in any language. But part of being a good person is being forgiving, and offering people a second chance to prove that they’re willing to cut the worms away.

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3 responses to “Apples to Apples (aka: Dealing with Unpleasant People)

  1. I like the Hemingway quote on striving to be a better version of your current self. I remember a quote shared with me by a co-worker many years ago, though I’m unsure of its origin:

    “He who knows not and knows not that he knows not is a fool; avoid him. He who knows not and knows that he knows not is a student; teach him. He who knows and knows not that he knows is asleep; wake him. He who knows and knows that he knows is a wise man; follow him.”

    I’m sure I knew everything about 18-19 years old, but I feel less sure about things the longer I’m on this planet. I do have a lot of info in my head, acquired over the years, some useful, and much of marginal interest.

    At first, your conversationalist doubled-down on his loutish behavior, but since you later exchanged a conciliatory e-mail, I think your action, calling him out, had a positive outcome.

    • I hope so. I felt bad afterward, because I’m not usually upfront with people when I feel they are behaving badly, and I wasn’t sure if it was an appropriate choice.

      It’s funny how much we think we know when we’re young and know nothing. 😉 Thanks to a training I recently went to, I’ve learned a phrase for that stage, in which you feel confident about something you actually know little to nothing about: unconscious ignorance. Once we become aware of our deficit, true learning and growth can begin.

      I get what you mean about feeling less sure about things over time. It’s a wise place to be. Like the Plato quote,

      “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.”

      What of we always strive to be in the stage of Conscious Ignorance, in which we are open to learning, and always aware that no matter how much we think we know or understand about a subject, we can always benefit from learning more?

      I really like that quote you shared, by the way. Would love to know the origin.

      • There is also a “fools rush in” element in play when you are young. When you think back, you realize how lucky you were to survive some of your fearless behavior.

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