A Bully: Big Ego, Small Balls?
*Disclaimer: While this article is written in the first person, the “I” character is not me, Sabrina. I am writing this article in my mother’s perspective surrounding an incident that took place a few days ago. Because my mom and I were together while the episode unfolded, I was able to gather her exact thoughts and analysis.
How it all started…
I’m up by 5 AM, already planning my day, the first cup of coffee in hand. As a routine tennis player, I book my courts for the week in advance via the online system. It opens at 7 AM; every morning, I’m there on the dot.
My daughter came down for breakfast at 7:30. Over lattes and avocado toast, we discussed our daily schedules and she asked me if I had booked tennis courts for the following week. I assured her that I had reserved one for her, and one for me. We proceeded to take our regular 8 AM walk, and that’s when we heard my phone ding.
A rather odd message came from a fellow member at the club, with whom I have a friendly and working relationship. “Is it your goal to piss off every member at your last club in this town? You are succeeding.”
I was shocked. While I didn’t take offense to his rude text, I was struck by how abrupt and impolite it was. No good morning. No context. No question. I wondered why he was so upset, and while I had some idea, I didn’t want to assume. In attempts to understand, I followed up with, “What can I do for you? What pisses you off?” and tried to diffuse it with “good morning to you too” accompanied by a sunshine emoji.
No response from him ensued.
Many members play matches several nights a week. The courts fill up quickly, especially in the evenings after the midday heat subsides. There are 11 courts in total. The most popular are numbers one and two, given their prime location in proximity to the clubhouse, the bathroom, and the parking lot.
Many members organize social matches at night, without being an official facilitator or a coach. Nevertheless, in this case, he still was able to book four courts and the schedule showed that there were still courts available.
Why was he so upset? His passive-aggressive accusation took me aback, especially with a highly regarded profession in the community that relies entirely upon prudently investigating the truth and proper communication. I would have expected an assertive and respectful approach.
The Root of the Problem
Three hours passed. I wondered why he still hadn’t texted back. I was curious as to why he was upset with me, so I sent: “I am still waiting for your appropriate response.” Instantly though, he attacked: “You know what you’re doing and we all believe it’s intentional…you like to stir the pot.”
Huh? I was confused as to how I “stirred the pot” as he was the one who instigated the argument. What particularly bothered me was his audacity to presume that I “knew what I was doing” in efforts to intentionally cause drama. In fact, telling me that ‘we,’ as in him and his friends, discuss how I like to stir the pot, actually exposed that HE was stirring the pot! Or just maybe, he was using the word “we” to amplify his power.
At this point, I could only discern that having reserved courts one and two angered him. “I guess this is a reflection of who you are, not me. I play daily after 5:00 PM. It’s a pattern on my daily schedule.” I replied. This seemed strange to me, as I’ve played at night for years. My mornings are dedicated to working, so I schedule my games in the evening. What purpose would it serve me to “stir the pot” over tennis courts?
I also plan a women’s mixer a couple of nights a week. On Mondays, our courts are all scattered, but I never complain. While I’d prefer to play on court 1, I remain flexible and work around it. And besides, what priority did he have to the courts over me? Were those HIS tennis courts? No. It became apparent to me that he was angry because I booked courts one and two before he did.
He conjured up the idea that I was ‘stealing’ his courts with ill-will to disrupt their matches. This was certainly far fetched from reality. Incredulous, I proceeded to respond: “Your thinking is malicious and it seems that you are acting in bad faith. Shame on you.”
On another note, my personality is exactly the opposite of someone who creates drama in social settings. No tension emerges on my courts; I shut down conversations that spread rumors. I never argue over points. When I encounter an issue with another player, I make the effort to clear the bad air immediately, and of course, with due respect. While I play tennis, I radiate positive energy while getting my workout in and having fun. Winning is not my purpose. When I lose, I do so gracefully and with a smile.
The ‘LADY’ Doth Protest Too Much
Despite his skewed perception, I wanted to give him another opportunity to take ownership and apologize for his scornful message. I texted: “It’s time for reflection. The way you would know would have been to ask me first to free up a court or play earlier. There are many people like you who act in bad faith, not me. The problem in this world is that people project their bad behaviors onto others.” It became evident that he was deliberately causing a racket. Despite my efforts to give him a second chance, he failed to take my cue. His response: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
Ok, hello, Shakespeare! Of course, with the premise that women are too dramatic to be believed. Was I the one who instigated the argument and provoked him with an unnecessary insult?
The LADY doth protest too much. The LADY? Methinks Me not.
I couldn’t help but wonder if he would have addressed me the same way if I were a man. I doubt it. Demeaning me by attacking my gender revealed his attempts to strip me of control over booking courts one and two. What a petty fight over nothing.
Reverting to cynicism and deflecting his poor behavior onto me only unveiled his cowardice. Big ego, small balls: I wanted to ensure he understood that. “Aren’t you the one who sent me a rude and passive-aggressive text without any thought or consideration?” I suggested that he take the time to reflect. And again, he denied with, “plenty of thought, not rude. Simply a question that apparently hit a nerve,” accusing me of triggering the argument. Evidently, he was twisting the truth to shift the blame.
Want to Prolong an Argument? Rhetoric!
What bothered me more than anything was that this entire situation could have been avoided. If he had first, asked kindly for me to switch or free up a court for him, I would have considered doing so. Secondly, if he had sent his initial text and then took responsibility through a sincere apology, the conversation to follow wouldn’t have surfaced:
“Read your text, analyze its structure, and see who was pissed off…It also took three hours for you to respond.” At this point, I had to put him in his place. I added, “No apology from you shows how ‘big of a man’ you are. Only a small person will think that I need to ‘stir the pot’ in a social setting. Your rhetoric shows your cowardice.” But again, he failed and replied with “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
From here onward, every opportunity I gave him to own up to his insolence was met by the same message, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” He repeated this about five times. I asked him if he “had anything else to add,” but the streamline of rhetoric continued until—
Don’t Compromise, Equalize.
I decided to use a strategy that would balance the power between us: I call it “equalize.”
A friend of mine at the club confided in me shared some information about this member. So, I fired back with the knowledge I had.
But of course, he copied, pasted, and fired the same message back to me, but this time with quotation marks around the word ‘lady.’ I wanted to ensure he understood that he couldn’t get away with spreading rumors and toxicity around me.
Bulldoze the Bully
They say not to fight fire with fire, but in some cases, it is necessary. Especially when dealing with people who seek to maintain superiority, feed their ego, and act in bad faith, you must equalize the power.
For the past eight years, I’ve devoted myself to projects aimed at empowering underserved communities, combatting bullying, and preventing sexual assault. When I ran for a school board position a couple of years ago, I was motivated to shift the abusive culture and fight for student’s rights. I experienced several instances of harassment–both on and off-line. My campaign manager at the time told me, “Never relent when you are bullied. You must equalize power. They’ll keep doing it if they see you’re weak.” This has resonated with me ever since and has emboldened me to press harder when it matters.
Sometimes, all available options are unfavorable. Yet, one must choose a solution where they are aware and willing to accept the results. In this case, I had one of two choices: to let someone bully and disrespect me, or to regain my control and confidence by sealing his lips. To ignore these condescending, verbal attacks would only encourage him to keep intimidating me. I asked myself, What value of accountability do I uphold when I let others control my feelings and actions? What are the worst possible outcomes of both options? Well, I would be betraying myself if I chose option one. And at that point, the relationship was impossible to restore. Deciding on choice two was necessary, even if it called for exposing his unscrupulous behavior. I had to bulldoze the bully. No regrets.
Communication 101: Go to the Source, Confront in Good Faith
The way to pick a fight is by perpetually making jagged, ad hominem attacks void of context. You exacerbate an argument by convincing yourself that you’re right, closing yourself off from understanding the other person involved. No one wants this in a social setting.
In closed communities, people hesitate to tackle issues face to face, fearing that doing so will corrode stability. Schools, corporations, and of course, country clubs, are all examples of these environments. In efforts to maintain the ‘tight-knit’ culture, many will keep quiet and wait until the other person comes forward. Who wants to have the reputation of a whistleblower or a tattletale? However, this waiting game for the other person to “do the right thing” because “they should know better,” does more harm than good. It’s called ‘entrapment.’ By trapping yourself in a preconception that may be distorted, you miss-assess the issue and misjudge the person. While we all have different perspectives as to how we should manage adversity, skirting around problems with sneaky behavior will always manifest itself in explosive and harmful outcomes.
If this member simply said, “Good morning Lea, we really like to play on courts 1-4. Would you mind switching courts with us or playing earlier?” I would have been happy to do him the favor. This is how you maintain relationships, build trust, and achieve your goals.
Today, when I sense any inclining of abuse of power, it propels me to confront issues head-on. Confronting issues doesn’t have to be aggressive, but it must be assertive. Being assertive means always starting in good faith to find out the truth. Start by going to the source that’s causing your ‘pain.’ Always start your conversations well-intended, with respect and an open mind. Giving people the benefit of the doubt from the onset demonstrates that you’re acting in good faith.
Every action of mine is well-intended. I question everything in order to avoid making rash assumptions; I push for collaborative and constructive resolutions where each party takes responsibility for their actions; I advocate for compassion when it comes to consequences.
For this reason, I am comfortable in my own skin. And with that said, I will never hesitate to ‘stir the pot’ in moments of injustice. Yes, I ‘stir the pot’ for people who engage in shady practices, lack the ability to reason, and are afraid to be exposed. He may call it “stirring the pot,” but I call it the courage to stand up!