Podcast #390: Why Insults Sting and How to Handle Them

Insults are a part of the human experience. We insult others and we get insulted back. Social media has only amplified our tendency to ridicule one another, and increased our likelihood of being on the receiving end of a barb. Yet we don’t typically understand the dynamics of insults very well. Why do we throw insults at each other and why do they hurt so much? Is there anything we can do to reduce the mental and emotional sting of these verbal affronts?

My guest today has explored the philosophy of insults in his book A Slap in the Face: Why Insults Hurt and Why They Shouldn’tHis name is Bill Irvine, and I had him on the podcast about a year ago to discuss his book on Stoic philosophy. Today on the show, Bill and I talk insults.

We begin our conversation discussing all the ways we can insult one another — from direct insults to passive aggressive ones. Bill explains why we often resort to backhanded compliments when praising people and why you don’t have to intend to insult someone to insult them. Our conversation then dovetails into the rise of PC culture and how it’s made us all more sensitive to small slights and unintentional snubs. We end our conversation with tactics you can use to be less sensitive to social slights with many of Bill’s insights coming from the Stoic philosophers. 

In a day and age where we seem to be in perpetual outrage mode, this podcast can provide some fortifying balm for the soul.

Show Highlights

  • Was Bill’s work on insults an offshoot of his research into Stoicism?
  • What is a direct insult? What are some examples?
  • Other types of insults that are more indirect and subtle 
  • Why backbiting is so damaging and hurtful 
  • Backhanded compliments, and how to avoid giving them 
  • Some of the famed, witty insulters throughout history 
  • How giving insults can actually elicit bonding and camaraderie 
  • How to give a great insult (yes, you read that right), and when it’s okay to do so 
  • The Stoic approach to dealing with insults 
  • Other tactics for dealing with insults, including self-deprecation 
  • The PC movement, trigger warnings, and being sensitive to insults 
  • The futility of regulating and outlawing insults 
  • Why hate speech and insults should be protected 
  • Toughening our “mental hides” 
  • Responding to praise 
  • The connection between insult and status 

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