Saturday, April 02, 2011

The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense by Suzette Haden Elgin

There are some people, and you know who they are, who always seem to be making digs at you, or who are arguing with you, that you cannot seem to win against. They force you to do whatever they wish by running verbal rings around you, or by making you feel somehow abused and unsettled. You may have perfectly good arguments, or they may be completely wrong, but you cannot win against them when they start in on you. This book exposes the arguments that these people make, and shows you how to defend yourself against them when they attack you by getting you to see the way they are attacking, and teaching you how to fight back to avoid falling into their traps and win the argument. You can even, by showing that you know how to defend yourself and defeating their attacks, keep them from attacking you ever again.

Author Elgin shows the types of people that most people communicating fall into: Placater, Blamer, Computer, Distracter and Leveller, and then covers the "Verbal Violence Octagon", eight different sorts of verbal attacks. Each section covers the attack, the implications implicit in the attack that you must rebuff or lose, and how to head off or defend against the attack. While each attack is considered verbal violence, Elgin stresses that self defense against these attacks should be a gentle one, and that the person under attack shouldn't attempt to attack the attacker in return, because that could lead to real violence of a more physical kind. Instead, Elgin shows how to make it clear to your attacker that they are not going to be able to draw you into an argument that will bring them satisfaction or allow them to win. And by demonstrating that you are capable of verbally defending yourself, they will be less inclined to attack you that way.

However, it's not just women who are attacked, and Elgin writes most of the book as if it was for men who need the advice. But she does mention that women in our society are actually almost brainwashed to defend those who attack them, and sometimes need to be shown that what this person is saying actually is an attack. She cautions women, in a special section dedicated to them, not to give into the temptation to use their very femaleness to try and deflect or defend against an attack. Men will quickly come to see you as weak if you do so, and use it as another reason to attack you. She also has advice when people need to be placated without casting oneself as a wrongdoer, and what to do and say if you are clearly in the wrong.

I enjoyed this book, but I thought that this is one you will need to read more than once; in fact, at least five or six times, followed by a lot of work to internalize all the information that is contained within. And this is because it's more than just knowing the kind of attacks that are leveled against you, but what the unspoken assumptions are behind each of these veiled attacks with words, and how to refute these unspoken assumptions when you reply- because if you don't, the attacker can still bring you down.

This is a book that demands more than just reading, it demands work to be able to use it effectively. You can't just read it once and assume you are done, you have to prepare by thinking about how to turn back these attacks, and practice until you can do it reflexively, because until you can, you can still be savaged by those seeking to attack you with words.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, but it's worthless without the work required to use the information properly. Unless you are willing to do the work and prepare, this book is pretty much useless. Regardless, recommended, but what you get out of this will depend on the effort you are willing to put into it.

No comments: