I can tell when I’m being talked down to.
I can tell when I’m being spoken up to.
I can tell when someone is talking to me as an equal.
When I was in Toronto attending to the details of my brother’s passing just over a week ago, a pastor and his wife came to visit my mom and dad. My first instinct was to run and hide, but recognizing that this was just a trigger, I relaxed, stayed, and met them. They were nice. But there was also this strange attitude of pastoral care that rubbed me the wrong way. I call it the “ick of concern”. It feels like pity. It feels like I’m being talked down to. Especially when it came to light that I “used to be in the ministry”, then the concern ramped up and I felt I had been knocked down another notch or two.
You know what? I couldn’t always tell when I was being talked down to. Why? Because it was so embedded in my religious culture that I didn’t recognize it for what it was. Condescension. A very kind and gracious condescension, but condescension nevertheless. Don’t get me wrong. I liked them. They are probably good pastors. My mom and dad love them and feel loved by them. But I also see a cultural norm that everyone participates in that I no longer want to be a part of.
As a young pastor I used to be condescending. But I went through a series of growths that eventually brought me to a place where I realized we are all equals. Our roles might be different, but fundamentally we are equal, the same, on the same level in terms of respect. I learned, by hard-earned experienced that I show people the respect they deserve by speaking, not down to them, not up to them, but across to them and to expect the same from them.
This is offensive to people who think too highly of themselves.
This is dignifying to people who think too little of themselves.
This is authentic to people, all people, for they are indeed your equals.
How do I deal with being talked down to? I used to just be quiet and play along. I don’t do that any more. It took me some time to gain my self-confidence, my own personal sense of dignity and worth, to be able to talk to whatever person was talking down to me as though I was their equal. Sometimes they are offended. Sometimes they are surprised. Sometimes they get it. But in every case I maintain my dignity and self-respect. This is important!
I do the same when people try to talk up to me. I speak as though I’m nobody special and that we are equals. The same thing happens though. Sometimes they are offended. Sometimes they are surprised. Sometimes they get it. But in every case I maintain my dignity and self-respect. I like to be affirmed (one of my love languages). But I don’t like to be high and lifted up… if you know what I mean.
So, the first step is to get a healthy sense of self-respect and dignity.
The next step is to project the same respect and dignity upon others.
Then find the nerve to live this out in our relationships and conversations.
I hope you found this helpful!