Series: In the Language of Respect

How to argue without offending and hurting the ones we love or need to understand


Wouldn’t it be great if good communication skills were the first things taught in school. We might have fewer bullies if we did. But, the only time the skills of arguing without offending are left to the Debating Club to teach. How many joined the Debating Club when you were in high school? Mmm… let’s face it. Maybe those kids who were thinking about becoming lawyers but the rest? Uh uh. Too boring. And too formal (which feels phony, right?)

For soldiers, effective communication comes in short, direct commands – the kind that become instinctive and automatic. Action first. Thought second. So, those suffering post traumatic stress disorder become even more limited and reactionary in the way they express themselves, or in some cases, in the way they retreat into silence with occasional outbursts.

Irritability is common to many forms of illness, not just PTSD. In heart or neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s or ALS, for instance, it’s a natural physical response to a variety of causes:  lack of oxygen, chemical imbalance in the brain, adverse drug effect or overzealous adrenaline, another possibility.  

With PTSD, a heightened reactionary response and prolonged frustration can turn those who suffer it into mini time bombs, only no one knows how the timer is set so it is difficult to defuse it. Part of the added firepower is self-anger as well as targeted anger. We become people we don’t want to be, people we don’t like very much, and people we no longer respect.

What do we do with this uncontrolled anger?

Separate ourselves from the anger.

Huh! Notice I said ‘the’ anger, not our anger or my anger. That’s the first subtle step.

  1. Adjust the way we think. Go from first and second person (I, me, we, our, us, you and your) to neutral third person –IT. Some will immediately argue that, in doing this, we cop out from taking responsibility for our anger. That is only one perspective. We can’t own something until we first control it. It then follows we can’t control our anger until we can isolate it. To isolate it we have to find a way to distance ourselves from it. Thinking in the third person helps us detach.
  2. See what we do and say from the moon. What? Seriously. Let’s pretend we are standing on the moon watching ourselves. What do we see? Very tiny bugs very far away. Which bug is us? What is the expression on our faces? What do our gestures look like? Are they intimidating to us as we watch? Are we shouting? Why? Now let us look at the other bugs. What is the expression on their faces as we talk? Dismay? Fear? Anger? Indifference? Watch their body language. Remember we can’t react because we are far away on the moon observing ourselves. We can ask for the aid of a telescope but this is as close as we are allowed to come to what is going on.
  3. Pretend we are an alien reporter. From this neutral position, record what we see happening in the third person. Keep these records in a diary.

EXERCISE:  Use this technique to examine an event or something that happened to make you feel angry, frustrated or very hurt. Pretend you are standing on the moon looking down on this person who went through what you did. Follow the steps but stay on the moon, keep that distance from you and the people involved, away from your emotions — you’re reporting not reliving it, like watching a cartoon — not a video that’s too close — and reduce each event to a factual point. Write what you see from your faraway position on the moon and strip it down to a point-by-point summary. A hypothetical case might go something like this:

  • A man is in a conversation with another man and the other man makes a statement that, in his experience, he knows is not true.
  • He calls the man a liar, tells him the facts and demands an apology.
  • The other man gets angry and calls him an asshole.
  • They both shout at each other, each one trying to get the better of the last word spoken.
  • Both are very angry. Nothing gets resolved.

Next time: Figuring out how each person feels by examining the body language of both and the wording of what they say from our position on the moon.


About Bonnie Toews and John Christiansen

Bonnie's Blog Posts invite our readers and free spirits everywhere to share life's adventures with us. I talk about writing my novels, reading books, chatting with other writers and John's and my journeys around the world. We welcome your anecdotes to our experiences and discussions.
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4 Responses to Series: In the Language of Respect

  1. Cpl. Kenneth H. Young CD (ret) says:

    I am not sure that this is even along the same lines but; I always look at a discussion as personal opinions and Even though I may disagree whit what someone has to say(or their opinion) I never the less would fight to the death their right to have that opinion.

    That is or should be the soldiers way. We didn’t join the military to give away our rights and we sure as heck do not wish them to be taken away from others. All that I ever ask is that other people treat me with the same respect for my opinions. They aren’t necessarily right or wrong but we all have the right to our own opinion.

    The first person to use terms like, “you’re stupid, or ass hole,” or any other bullet words, is the person who has just admitted that their argument is too week to stand up to scrutiny, or questioning. Let it go because you have already won.

    When an argument starts to be downgraded to name calling. I just say, “I disagree 100% with what you say, but would fight to the death your right to say it, please afford me the same courtesy.” It usually works.

  2. My purpose in doing this series, Ken, is to help those suffering from PTSD who sound off impulsively. In a recent thread of comments two vets actually agreed with each other but couldn’t “see” it because one immediately assumed the other commentor was against him/her. In talking with a third contributor to the thread I learned that those suffering from PTSD do have irrational fears of being hated, and it colors their perspective. I then worked with the individual doing this “detaching” exercise and gradually brought the two views to harmony and a state of respect.

    Some vets are having problems re-integrating because of this paranoid feeling that creeps into the way they treat others because of the way they feel treated, whether their perception is the actual interaction or one-sided. To work again, they have to relearn communication skills. I don’t think I’ve ever had PTSD but my impulsive mouth got me in plenty of trouble on the job. When I learned to change my communication style, I became a very effective manager with no loss of integrity. If anything I gained respect and more people listened instead of getting their backs up as soon as I spoke. Members of Parliament are the most childish examples of the worst communication possible. To be effective in today’s need for veterans reforms, we–all of us–have to be the best communicators we can possibly be to achieve those goals.

  3. BriGette says:

    I appreciate your writing this. Its interesting that it comes after I was questioning a social learning game that I pitched with points two and three from your writing as the major points for relearning for reintegration.
    Most times as humans we don’t even pay attention to our how our body language emits more information than our words. This is especially true with those who have intimacies with PTSD.
    I think I am ready now to push forward to emerge into the virtual to heal myself and others.
    Thanks for this very cogent and timely post.

  4. Bonnie Toews says:

    BriGette, feel free to contribute to this series as it proceeds with examples from your own experience. Discussions are good. It will also be interesting to see if any try the exercises and if they do in fact help. Working from a blog makes it difficult to see how participants are affected.

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