The expression, ‘turn the other cheek’ is a Biblical term which nowadays seems to mean, ‘give your aggressor another opportunity to hurt you, to show them that you can cope with their mistreatment, and to show that you will not be provoked into responding violently.’
That’s a silly response, and it reeks of self-righteousness. The underlying message is: ‘As you can see, I’m not sinking to your level. I can cope with you, because you’re a jerk.’ That judgmental thinking is the last thing you want to promote in yourself.
Or, you might be trying to prove to your aggressor that you are not hurt. However, your ‘turning the other cheek’ behaviour indicates that you are hurt, and your aggressor will know it.
Anyway, you haven’t dealt with the insult. The person gets away with it, and as a consequence:
(i) you might feel disempowered, or foolish. Or weak. That could prompt you to be self-critical.
(ii) You might choose to be judgmental and think, ‘I am more mature than she is’.
(iii) You might become resentful. ‘I hope one day he suffers for this.’
(iv) You might become bitter. ‘This is so unfair! I was being mature turning the other cheek, yet I still feel hurt.’
None of those responses will help you feel good about yourself or about the situation. Turning the other cheek is a lousy option to take, and it’s not being assertive.
If someone insults you, or is dismissive of you, or speaks to you badly, or keeps pressuring you and won’t take no for an answer, that person is being rude and aggressive. If you honestly don’t mind their treatment of you, then keep walking. (You might know the person to be deeply troubled or mentally ill, and know not to take their comments seriously.) But if you are rattled, and the person isn’t deeply troubled or mentally ill, keep calm, and without raising your voice say something like: ‘I don’t like the way you’re speaking to me. Speak to me with courtesy.’
You are not trying to defend yourself, or engage with the aggressor, you are simply establishing how you want to be treated. You are focusing on what needs to happen. The statement will help you gather your thoughts and it might prompt the other person to moderate their behaviour. People usually know when they are being disrespectful, and will keep doing so unless you stick up for yourself.
Let’s say a man speaks to you rudely. Focus on what needs to happen from now on. Say to him, ‘Speak to me with courtesy.’ Or, ‘Speak to me respectfully.’ The guy might sneer, ‘Or what?’ or he might argue that he didn’t speak to you rudely. Just repeat the message. ‘Speak to me with courtesy.’ That way, you are not getting corralled into an awkward argument, and you are not being forced to defend yourself. It doesn’t matter what the other person says. All you have to do is focus on what needs to happen.
‘From now on, speak to me with courtesy.’ That one focus is your mast. Cling to it and you won’t get washed overboard. Mind you, he probably won’t comply. He could continue to speak to you rudely. Just shrug and say it again: ‘Speak to me with courtesy.’
You can’t control his behaviour, but the message you have given (a message you both receive) is that you have stuck up for yourself. That’s the winning message. The fact that you have stood up for yourself in such a positive way means you will feel far better about yourself afterwards. And you have undermined any satisfaction the aggressor was hoping to get.
Be grateful to him, even, because he is giving you practise for when you encounter an even bigger jerk.
Q. ‘What if he continues to speak to me rudely?’
Shrug. You have done all you can. You have stuck up for yourself. Congratulations!
Q. ‘What if he looks like getting violent?’
If you are being hassled, statements like the ones below help us get our thoughts in order and make the other person aware of how we are feeling. They also state what needs to happen from now on.
Adopt one of these statements (or make up your own) and use it when you need to.
‘I’m feeling uncomfortable with the way you’re speaking to me. Speak to me with courtesy.’
‘Don’t speak to me in that way. Speak to me respectfully.’
‘I want to discuss something with you, but I feel uncomfortable bringing it up. May I speak freely?’
‘I will think about that and get back to you soon.’ Then plan your response for your next encounter.
Example: Mary speaks to you in a discourteous manner.
You: ‘How dare you say that to me.’ Incorrect. Don’t focus on Mary’s behaviour; focus on your message. Try:
You: ‘Speak to me with courtesy.’
Mary: ‘Or what?’
You: ‘Or nothing. Don’t speak to me like that. Speak to me with courtesy.’ (Good. You didn’t get corralled into an awkward argument; you didn’t stray from what needs to happen.)
Mary: ‘Why shouldn’t I speak to you in the way I did?’
You: ‘Speak to me with courtesy.’ (Good, you didn’t get drawn into a debate.)
Mary: ‘I didn’t say anything bad.’
You: ‘Yes you did . . .’ Incorrect. Don’t focus on what the other person is doing, don’t get drawn in. Try:
‘You might think it’s alright to speak to me like that, but don’t speak to me in that way in future. Speak to me respectfully.’ (Good. You’re letting Mary know you understand her opinion without debating its merits. You are holding fast onto what needs to happen from now on.)
Mary: ‘You’re too sensitive.’
You: ‘Nevertheless, speak to me courteously.’
There is a chance Mary has no idea she has been rude, but don’t let her get away with it. It’s your job to ensure you are treated well. (Or at the very least, stick up for yourself.)
If Mary is nonplussed, do her a favour. Explain to her (in a letter?) why her statements are unacceptable. She might appreciate the tip.
Q. ‘Mark, how do you respond when you are insulted at Speakers’ Corner?’
If the person is a bigot I point it out to them. Sometimes I use jokes, making it fun for myself and the listeners. I am no Dalai Lama, or Gandhi; and I certainly don’t turn the other cheek. I often respond aggressively.
‘You want us to be assertive, yet it’s okay for you to be aggressive?’
In day-to-day life I do speak assertively. However, at Speakers’ Corner I don’t need to be spoken to with courtesy. I expect to be insulted by hecklers and bigots, and they expect aggression in return. It’s all part of the fun.
I guess it’s like boxing. Out of the boxing ring, fighting is not appropriate. In the ring, it’s on!