February 17, 2013 by lucieromarin
Well, I sure wasn’t kidding when I said I’d have to think about the proper way to deal with cholerics. After a lot of thinking, I concluded, “Who the heck knows?”. However, I figured that made for a pretty lousy post, though, so I thought some more, with these results:
1) How you manage a choleric depends on whether the choleric is male or female, and on whether you are male or female. It’s easier for a bossy man to target a woman, because she risks being labelled a feminist if she argues with him, and then she’ll get targeted some more. But, in fairness, it’s also very difficult for a lot of decent Catholic men to stand up to bossy women, because they don’t want to be rude to a woman, and they’re afraid that stepping on her bossiness would be rude. This is why you see men capable of punching alligators in the face breaking out in a sweat when some pushy female in the congregation approaches them to ask them for money. So I guess that women have a duty to look out for men in those situations, as men have a duty to look out for women in the opposite situation.
2) There’s also a difference between a) a choleric man with an empire, b) a choleric man, frustrated because he doesn’t have an empire, and c) all the other cholerics, male and female, who just aren’t trained very well.
2a) Choleric man with an empire: this is the sort of man who already is the head of some kind of lay apostolate and who already has followers, a newsletter, the ‘job’ of telling people what do to all day. Realistically, the only way that this kind of bully will ever be shut down is if the whole subculture rises up against him as one, and we all know that that is never going to happen, so we can forget that.
However, I was once a witness to a beautiful moment which taught me a lot about how to behave when such a person bears down upon one. Once, I saw a priest relaxing after Mass; he was leaning back on a bench, legs stretched out, face lifted to the sun, enjoying chitchat with the people either side of him. Choleric Man approached, stood at a semi-respectful distance, loomed, and said:
“You’re a heretic.”
“What?” said priest.
“That was heresy in your sermon.”
The priest grinned and shook his head (he’d learned how to make a will of iron look cool, and it showed.)
“Nope,” he said.
“Are you telling me -” Choleric Man tackled whatever the controversial point in the sermon was.
“Absolutely,” the priest said, and then repeated his point all over again.
The thing was…he didn’t change his posture, not one little bit. He didn’t suddenly sit up straight, he didn’t stop smiling, he didn’t fold his arms, he didn’t stop taking in the sun. He remained casual and relaxed, and I could see the effect of this on Choleric Man, who just…sagged. The priest took control of the situation, not with argument, but with body language. The choleric melted because the combat he needed – which would have expressed itself in changed body language – was not given to him. And this is the most important point: a choleric man with an empire feeds off your signals. He takes your emotional energy and – well, basically, he eats it. For as long as you behave as though the whole exchange is casual – and maybe even funny – he’s powerless.
Apparently – according to some advice given to Australian women a few decades ago – this is the same tactic you’re supposed to use against serial killers who find you alone on the train. I don’t think I’ll try exercising it in that situation!
My own tactic, too, is, to remember that no one is pure evil. Even bullies have often done something wonderful for someone at some point. If I know what that thing is, I hold it before my mind’s eye when they speak to me; looking at it helps me to smile at them and be civil – and guess what? It seems to make them go away faster.
2b) Choleric men who are frustrated by a lack of empire. It’s important to remember that no choleric really targets you because you are you; he targets you because you are there. So it’s nothing personal; which means you’re not actually being unhelpful or letting another human being down if you extract yourself from his plans and go your own way. Now, the right tactic for these guys is the same as for the men with an empire; you must remember that cholerics view people in terms of whether or not they are useful. So, if you’ve been invited to do or attend something you don’t want to do, you need to use the line, “Oh! I’m useless to you.” If you add, “But never mind – give me a couple more flyers anyway, because I know who I can share them with,” he’ll be satisfied (unless he really is actually stalking you or something) and will go away, and forget you.
If, however, he is giving unsolicited advice, I think it’s your call as to whether you argue with him or not. It will be different in every situation. I will say this, though – I’ve noticed that women with sweet, piping voices can get away with a lot more in an argument, because even when they’re saying, “That’s ridiculous,” it still sounds respectful. So I guess that those of us with booming, aggressive voices should bear that in mind.
2c) All the other cholerics. These are like bullies-in-training; young men and women on fire with enthusiasm for their projects, who want your time and money and to tell you that you will have to answer to God for not turning up to their prayer vigil. It’s only fair to remember that they have absolutely no intention of hurting anyone; they’re not actively seeking power; they’re just young, enthusiastic, choleric-by-temperament, and following a bad example. They’ve also been bullied themselves.
For these kids, I say, nip it in the bud while there’s still time. It’s super-important to remember that cholerics can usually take as much flack as they give; what sounds rude to you just sounds like business-like negotiation to them. So, return their pushiness to them in kind. I don’t mean we should be rude or insulting; we don’t need to speak ill of their work or their friends. We just need to do this:
Girl: Are you interested in coming to our conference?
Girl: Okay. That was definite.
Me: Yep. Sorry.
Girl: That’s okay. I like certitude.
Me: Good. Hey, I like your skirt.
Me: It could use a few extra inches, though.
Girl: Yeah, I know. Well… I guess I’ll go ask some other people then.
Me: Okay. See you.
Yes, the bit about the hemline was a low blow. I am bad, bad, bad!