“Listen,” Gerry began, “there are two ways to insult someone. Intentionally, and unintentionally. Here, I’ll show you. Insult me.”
I raised my eyebrows at the bald fellow, but he seemed serious enough. “Uh… you’re old and bald,” I offered. I wasn’t sure exactly how harsh I should go.
Gerry didn’t seem phased by this terrible, incredibly offensive attack, however; he merely nodded, as if accepting that I was right. “Yep, sure am,” he confirmed, still nodding. “Now, if you had said something that was actually hurtful, like telling me that I had a tiny dick and I deserved to go die in a fire, well, I would have been a bit hot and bothered. But insults like that? Easily shrugged off, and most of the time they really don’t stick with a fellow. They’re temporary.”
I’m confused. I took another swig of my drink to cover up the blank look on my face, but Gerry still spotted it. “Those, you see, are just intentional insults,” he went on. “And although they make us feel better when we yell them at someone else, they don’t mesh with what we believe about ourselves.”
My face must still have showed my confusion. “Like this,” Gerry continued. “You’re an imbecile. You are. Now, how’s that make you feel?”
I shrugged. “Honestly, it doesn’t really bother me,” I said.
“Exactly!” he replied. “Because in your head, you know that you aren’t an imbecile. Your internal image of yourself is that you’re a pretty smart guy. So when I call you something that doesn’t match your internal view, your brain rejects it, brushes it off.”
This actually made some sense. “Isn’t there some psychological theory about that?” I asked. I could vaguely remember reading about something like this, what seemed to be a million years ago in college.
Gerry shrugged. “Probably. But this means that, if you really want to hurt someone with an insult, you have to take an entirely different approach.”
“Do you have to get something that they actually believe, inside their heads?” I guessed. “Strike at their inner weakness?”
“If you do, sure, that’ll land a knockout punch,” Gerry acceded. He paused to raise a finger to our bartender, who nodded and busied himself pouring a beer from one of the taps. “But good luck spotting someone’s weakness like that – especially on a stranger, like Ned over there.” He nodded across the bar at the gray-haired man, who cackled as he lifted his glass in a mock toast. “No, there’a much easier method, one that won’t rely on guesswork.”
I was leaning forward a bit in my seat, and I had finished the rest of my drink without noticing – Gerry could tell that I was interested, hanging on his words. He grinned, obviously enjoying being the center of attention. “You gotta insult them unintentionally,” he imparted, as if sharing a great secret.
I sat back a little. “You’ve got me confused again,” I confessed.
Gerry waved one hand in the air in a vague and meaningless gesture. “Let’s go back to that internal picture of yourself,” he said. “Now, you don’t believe that you’re an idiot, but nobody, on the inside, is really, truly, confident in themselves. Like you. What’s something that you’re good at?”
At first, I thought of mentioning my job, but that idea was quickly squashed – if I was truly good at it, I wouldn’t have been kicked to the curb. “I can play a pretty decent bass guitar,” I offered, my head filled briefly with visions of my garage band from college.
“Sure, that works. Now, imagine that you were at a party, you picked up a bass guitar, you played a couple songs. You’re enjoying yourself, and then one of the other party guests walks up and comments that your playing sounds great! Before you can thank him, however, he guesses that you must have been playing for three or four months. Now, how are you feeling?”
I closed my eyes for a minute as I envisioned this scenario. A clink next to me signaled the arrival of Gerry’s beer. “And one for this gentleman, too,” he commented.
To be continued…