There are also sorts of different kinds of insults:
– In your face, making assertions about your manhood, your mother, and/or your anatomy. They often include some , as in “kiss my ass”. These tend to be more prevalent among the young, unsophisticated, and/or uneducated. Or anyone driving a car.
– More prevalent, especially as you rise in the world, or the more subtle digs, aimed at your intelligence, business judgment, or general competence.
– Insults coming from close friends, family members, spouses or girlfriends tend to have their own special character, as these are the people who, through experience and careful study, know exactly what sort of more subtle verbal barb is likely to cause hidden anguish.
Sometimes – in fact, many times – its simply much better to ignore the insult, rising above the fray. You don’t want to be like Senator Byrd of West Virginia, who, when named the stupidest senator in a poll, called a press conference to issue a denial. By responding to an insult, you acknowledge it; hence, the old cliché about not “dignifying that comment with a response.” This is appropriate in any situation where the insult will be quickly forgotten if not acknowledged, such as might take place among strangers in crowds, public places such as stadiums, or in traffic. When in doubt, just ignore it.
There are neighborhoods in inner cities in America today where you can still be shot or stabbed just by looking at someone the wrong way, without saying a word. (Usually preceded by, “What the f#$k you looking at, mother@##$%?”, inserting profanities as appropriate.) Its good to remember than you can insult someone without intending to, or even without uttering a word; the tougher the neighborhood, the more easily offense is taken. When people have so little self regard, insults become deadly.
As a general rule, in terms of rising above, it’s most appropriate for the rich to ignore the poor, the mature to ignore youth, the famous to ignore the rabble, the learned to ignore the ignorant, the motorist to ignore the pedestrian. In terms of personal safety, it makes sense for the individual to ignore the crowd, the unarmed to ignore the armed, and the weak to ignore the strong. As a gentleman, you’ll need to pick your battles, and not confuse manly behavior with petty righteousness. Remember that aristocrats never demean themselves by dueling with anyone in a lower social station.
On the other hand, there are certain occasions when ignoring insults exhibits not good sense, but cowardice. In some cases, an amusing put down or humorous repartee might be appropriate, defusing a hostile situation, and showing your command of the situation through wit.
If the insult it too grievous to ignore, or too direct, violent, or hostile to be diffused with wit, you may need to engage the insulting party, especially if by not doing so you will encourage more of the same, or if your inaction may be taken for fear, and such fear may lead the insulting party to escalate their attacks. Often, the best response is to say, calmly and clearly, looking straight into the eyes of the attacker, “What did you say”? This shows that you are not afraid of them, and they will often diffuse the situation themselves by saying something like “Nothing, man, I didn’t say nothing.” In such cases, the battle is over, you have won, leave quickly before the other party rethinks their capitulation.
If, instead of capitulating, the party says exactly what they said before, and says it straight to your face, then you are back to square one, but with more on the line. You can still invoke the strategies of ignoring it, or trying humor, but at this point you have already committed yourself, and the stakes have been raised. Rather than engage in a pointless and extended game of insult and counter insult, a man might simply make a statement: “That’s a ridiculously stupid statement, that could only be made by a fool” and walk away. Once you begin walking away, don’t turn back; and ignore anything that may be said. Its always fitting to cap your statement by making some pretentiously polite remark: think of Julia Roberts in Notting Hill, when she tells the group of men in the restaurant “that they have dicks the size of peanuts”, and then recommends the chicken entrée for lunch.
A gentleman will rarely, and only under the worst circumstances, initiate violence as a response to an insult. If the insult is directed at one’s companion, rather than one’s self, and is particularly graphic, or threatening, then a man must follow his heart as well as his head in determining the course of action. But if you do use physical force, remember there are no halfway measures; the object at that point is not to show manliness, but to destroy your enemy. If you just halfheartedly shove someone, you’re likely to end up getting your ass kicked. Almost always it’s better to walk away, but if you choose to fight, do it like a man; doing your best to leaving your enemy a bloody pulp on the floor.
Sometimes a man has to run like a man, especially when outnumbered, and in situations where you have far more to lose than your assailants. But if your mother or dog is concerned, there are no options; stay and fight to the death.