I consider myself a pretty patient person. Most people who know me would corroborate. I generally walk around with a smile on my face. I try to live in the moment, count my blessings and be thankful for the good things around me each day. It takes a lot to break through that. It’s very rare when something does.
So when someone asked me today if I ever get annoyed, I told them that sure I do. (Probably more than I was willing to admit to them.) When they asked me to name something that really presses my buttons, the first thing that came to mind was condescension.
Now I think of myself as a fairly smart guy. I’m well educated and have enough life experiences under my belt to believe I’m equipped to handle most situations. But I’m also self-aware enough to know that I don’t know everything. In fact, I’ll gladly concede that there is way more out there that I don’t know than I do. I’m also intellectually curious enough to always be game to learn something new. And not just game – I actually get excited about new topics, situations and experiences. If given the choice between the easy path or the more challenging one, I’ve nearly always chosen to challenge myself.
The interweb defines condescension as “an attitude of patronizing superiority; disdain.” My issue with condescension isn’t new. I’ve had it since long before I knew what the word meant. I think it’s because I have very low tolerance for disrespect.
Now as I said before, there are lots of things I don’t know. I’m cool with that. And I’ve been lucky to have had a wealth of great teachers in my life (and I don’t just mean the kind of teachers we meet in school). What makes someone a great teacher in my mind is the ability to impart new information on others in a way that is clear, understandable and appropriate for the person they are teaching. Rather than holding their superior knowledge over the pupil, they take great pleasure in sharing their knowledge.
Being condescending is disrespectful. Because they possess knowledge the other person doesn’t, the condescending speaker (often incorrectly) assumes that they are more important and more worthy (take your pick - of power, of respect, of praise or recognition, etc.) than the person they're speaking to.
Superior knowledge on a given subject does not come with a license to be disrespectful. Condescension is about the form of the message more than the message itself. Intentionally or not (and I believe condescension often comes with this intent), treating someone else as your inferior is going to bruise someone’s feelings. Even if this act makes you feel better, is it worth the cost?
Like those awesome teachers I mentioned previously, if you have valuable information to share, do it with respect and with empathy to the person with whom you are sharing. You don’t want to see me get mad, do you?