27 Comments

As a young person, insults invariably made me bristle, and become angry. As I’ve gotten older (actually, at this point ,old…) I just don’t pay much attention to what anyone says about me-I KNOW my issues, and try to do better.

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May 7, 2023Liked by Massimo Pigliucci

Thank you for coming the term 'stoicsplaning', if only because it made me realize how often I actually do this. I have the type of personality that, when someone shares a problem with me, I feel I must jump into action immediately and attempt to solve it for them. I am well-meaning, but forget that sometimes, what they really want or need is to be listened to and commiserated with. I want very badly for my family and friends to be able to see the world through a Stoic lens, as I try to do. But this is a wake-up call to me, helping me to realize that trying to teach them in a moment of crisis is probably not going to yield the result I am hoping for, and probably not going to make them feel better, either.

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I appreciate the Confucian version of this, there is an episode in the Analects that goes something like,

"Confucius was asked, 'It has been said, 'repay an insult with a good turn', what do you think of this phrase?'

Confucius answered, 'If I were to repay an insult with a good turn, then with what would I repay a good turn? Repay an insult with straightness. Repay a good turn with a good turn."

I've been working on the humor thing to some degree. If I post something on social media and someone responds in an insulting way I'll usually just reply by saying "Okay," -- that is, just kind of agreeing with them in a plaintive way. What they wanted is affirmation of their rightness and my wrongness, and I'll give them that affirmation. At the very least it makes me laugh to reveal how hollow that sort of thing is.

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All I know is that no one has ever insulted me. It's like I'm a rock to everybody! And now I learn that Massimo is well endowed--never thought of him along those lines before!

Seriously, I am one of those who too often do not take insults, even from people I've never met or heard of before, stoically. I do know that my friend Massimo keeps teaching me and that I'm grateful for that. I'm especially pleased with the last bit: "not giving a crap..." and working towards eradicating injustices. Bravo!

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If the insults are reactions to and claims against factual statements I've made/written, then I think it is ok to provide references as a response. That is not emotional. It is intended to inform/educate the audience privy to the interaction. However, if they are simple ad hominem smears, I have usually replied with the statement that ad hominems reflect the user. Not silent like a stone, simply factual.

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It's often difficult to distinguish between what is merely and insult and what is a criticism of whether one's actions were virtuous. I've had to deal with that very publicly in the past few days. I use Substack to do citizen journalism in my small town. Two people recently gave me tips about a local politician. One of them was such a bombshell that my reporting got picked up by the Boston Globe and NH Public Radio. For this I was rewarded in social media as "disgusting," "disrespectful," "witch hunt," and - my favorite - "muckraking yellow journalism at its worst."

Without acknowledging the insults I doubled down, saying I was going to continue to do what I was doing and why it needed to be done.

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I was a little disappointed. I expected much more from your article. Yes, I know (I guess every student of Stoics knows ) the two Stoic reactions on insults. Ignore them or respond with humor. So, after responding with "... a bit of self-detracting humor" and discussing the issue with your Stoic friends, you wrote down your thoughts and concluded that it is better to ignore the insults. I quote from you: "...The intentions and utterances of other people are not up to us, but our reaction to such utterances is very much up to us, and the best way to handle insults is the one that Epictetus counsels: behave like a stone would. Period." Well, thank you very much but I expected something more than repeating Epictetus as if he was the Holy Preacher ! The question is HOW can we train ourselves in order to follow the Stoic principle of becoming "rocks". And this is the weak point of the Stoic concept. It's easy to say but it's difficult to achieve it. But what about the Subconscious? That inner impulse that dominates our lives? How can we tame it ? For example, in your case, you reacted with humor, but can you really state that you were not upset at all? and how long did that take? I also see that you discussed the matter with many of your friends and also in public. Even if you used this case as an example to discuss the Stoic attitude on insults, I suspect that you were at least irritated with the unfair insult. As for me, I do try to follow the Stoic practices and I have made some progress, but to be honest I can't simply ignore an insult as you (following Epictetus) advise me. The most I can do is to PRETEND to be a stone. The insulting words keep haunting me and make me angry. Only I try not to show it. But I guess this is not what Epictetus says. So I would appreciate if you could give us any practical advice on how to keep our inner "apathy" and "ataraxia" after an insult. For example: is it a matter of practice? is it a matter of contemplation? A combination of these ? something else? In any case I expect something more than general thoughts on Stoicism concluding with : "behave like a stone would".

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The connection between understanding and working with perceived personal insults and using Stoicism to work publicly on important social justice issues is really helpful.

And I love the term “Stoisplaining”!

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May 5, 2023Liked by Massimo Pigliucci

Wow - there is so much here to chew on! A very deep dive into what it means to really be a stoic in real life and not just someone who tries to pass as one ( I have been quilts of this myself )! From now now I will make every effort to be a rock and an island!

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May 5, 2023Liked by Massimo Pigliucci

Bill Irvine also has written an entire book on insults, A Slap in the Face: Why Insults Hurt - And Why They Shouldn't. He explores all of the appropriate Stoic responses to insults.

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