A few years ago, I worked for someone who claimed to have a great insight in the people he had to deal with concerning the importance of saving face in the local culture. Indeed, saving face is a widespread human phenomenon as attacks to pride and dignity are among the most dangerous sort of attacks that can be made against someone. It has always struck me as deeply hypocritical, though, that someone would claim great insight and knowledge about the importance of face to others and yet not behave in such a matter that reflects this knowledge. It seems deeply perverse to know that maintaining dignity and honor is important to someone and then to refuse to use that knowledge in one’s dealings with them, so as to deliberately provoke them into resentment and deep and lasting animosity. It seems unnecessarily provocative to attack people at what both we and they know to be a particular weak point unless we desire in multiplying our enemies. In such times as we are living in, that seems a spectacularly unwise decision given the need we all have to minimize the amount of enemies we possess who actively wish our misery and suffering and destruction.
A great deal of hostility comes from attacks on personal dignity. The noted Spanish dictator Francisco Franco has been mocked a great deal by some writers for his hostility to freemasons, and yet his animosity did not spring without a personal grudge. As a general during the period before the Spanish Civil War, he had (like many elites throughout the Western world) sought entry to a Spanish lodge but his own brother had apparently cast a vote against him. Franco, not a man to tolerate slights to his honor, responded to this snub by active persecution of those who had persecuted him, and as the leader of post-war Spain, he had a lot of power to bring to bear against those who had rejected him. In retrospect, it was perhaps unwise to antagonize someone who was so powerful, but people who possess institutional power are not always savvy when it comes to recognizing the repercussions of our deeds. Some people may be prone to forgive the slights they have suffered, but not everyone is so generous of spirit, and so it behooves us not to push someone beyond a red line where they are permanently and implacably our enemy. Who knows what power to hurt us our enemies may have in the future, and how they may relish to see us suffer as we have made them suffer? Likewise, we should all be careful to note our own capacity for resentment and how it can be augmented by the struggles of our existence.
It is all too common that those who wish to avenge themselves the most on us are those who are the closest to us. Like some people, I have been puzzled by the sort of vengeance that occurs between former spouses. In one particular recent case there has been an attempt by someone to post a lot of photos about her estranged husband. Divorce court is obviously not the sort of place one finds a great deal of the warmth and humanitarian and loving tendencies of humankind, to be sure, but the posting of photos that show someone to have passed out in compromising circumstances does not always lead people to view others with contempt. A great many people can identify with the tendency to self-medicate and can relate to someone choosing to deal with a stressful and troublesome existence (and with relationship trouble) by engaging in self-destructive behavior. At times we may defend our own dignity by viewing others better, and attempts to attack the pride and reputation of someone can backfire because it triggers the fellow-feeling that exists with others who can relate and who dislike the implicit attack on their own dignity.
It appears that there is a serious lack of understanding in how to tactically deal with the hostility that people have to attacks on their dignity. Most of us know at least the sort of dark feelings we have of those who attack our own dignity, and if we are competent when it comes to logic and observation we can recognize this to be a widespread and possibly universal trait among human beings. It therefore stands to reason that we could use this knowledge for the better, in seeking to moderate our own interactions with others in such a way that we allow others to maintain their dignity so as not to provoke implacable resentment and hostility against us, and that we can frame our disagreement with others in ways that we do not provoke the resentment and hostility of those who are unconnected with the specific business at hand in our communication but who may feel attacked by the way that we have dealt with others. This is not to say that we will be able to handle such matters perfectly, as error and folly are bound up in our hearts and minds, but to at least recognize an area of potential future vulnerability. We may not long remember the slights we give to others, but they will never forget the slights that we have given them, and as we see in the world at present, the desire for revenge can easily make one feel as if one is seeking justice and further justifying oneself in one’s own eyes. To say that we need less resentment is obvious, but eliminating resentment requires a respect for the dignity of those we have to deal with in unpleasant and non-ideal circumstances.