When I was a kid, we used to play this game called “Flinch.” You would stand facing another boy and you would take turns faking punches or slaps at each other’s face. Whomever could refrain from flinching won. I lost every time. I’d not only flinch, I’d duck too. I lost on purpose because after seeing me play, my grandpa (who seldom ever spoke directly to me) told me not to train myself to hold still for a punch. He told me it was like practicing to get knocked out, and that it was one game that I should never win. He’d been a boxer, so I readily took his advice to “duck and weave.” His words must’ve helped because even after being a fighter as a youth and a bouncer in clubs during the nineties, I’ve only been punched or slapped in the face a fistful of times. Thanks, Grandpa. And not so ironically, most of those blows were delivered unto me by my father: a religious man, a cop, and one who did not tolerate disrespect. My dad didn’t play “Flinch,” he played, “You Betta Not.”

Today I see the grown-up winners of “Flinch” playing a new game. This one’s called, “Too Sensitive.” This game is almost always played remotely via the Internet. In it, two or more adults who disagree on an issue (usually one that none of them have any real power to impact) mock each other until one of them shows signs of being offended. Then the most disrespectful one is declared the “winner.”

My grandmother knew I had played this when the Internet first came out. We were close and talked a lot. In fact, I told her everything—even about my online fights from back in the day of AOL chat rooms. Gramma didn’t understand the internet, but she did understand people. She told me that being disrespectful to someone was not the way to win them over to my way of thinking. “Kindness is a bridge,” she once told me. If she were alive today, she’d probably tell me that the (fictitious) game “Too Sensitive” is wrong for two reasons:

  1. Using disrespect to manipulate someone to adopt your philosophical position seldom ever works but very frequently will gain you an enemy. And you shouldn’t play the game “Too Sensitive” because getting good at it will only make you an asshole 98% of the time and discount you as a source of good info.
  2. Training yourself not to be sensitive may also mean becoming good at not being empathetic. And empathy is a great skill to have the majority of the time. Just think of most of the friends, family, and mentors whom you respect, aren’t they empathetic toward you?

Thanks, Gramma.

Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely such a thing as being too sensitive. But even more common is being too disrespectful. You can disagree with someone and still be helpful. If you mock someone or try to belittle them then you really don’t want what’s right, you just want to be right. No one trusts a bully who wasn’t already on the bully’s side. So you’re not gaining converts, you’re preaching to the choir while ruining your credibility in front of everyone who was on the fence.

And winning “Too Sensitive” might not go well for you. In fact, as I scroll through my newsfeed and read your mocking and divisive memes and mean-spirited comments, I wonder what would happen to you if you had said those things in person to someone like the younger version of my father. If you had, and saw that he became upset, and then accused him of being too sensitive, you had better hope you were never a regular winner of the game “Flinch.” Because my dad was the champion of “You Betta Not.”

Next time, listen to my grandparents.

–  Griff  Follow me at https://www.facebook.com/GriffWild/