Touchy Toughies

“I must be tough, because I pick on others”

Posted May 22, 2016

We all have our coping strategies, but also our noping strategies, ways of saying, “nope, I’m not going to listen to you,” in ways that we get away with. Different temperaments gravitate to different noping strategies, but it’s not just temperament. To some extent, our strategies are shaped by our physical appearances too.

For example, gentle and feminine looking people aren’t very convincing when they try to shout other people down. They’re more likely to convey a convincing “nope” by looking wounded or disappointed.

Burly guys can get away with bolder noping strategies. We (for I am one) can glower and fume, or raise our voices menacingly to get others to back down.

In nature we find both meek and bold strategies employed to ward off predators. Some creatures get smaller, hide or play dead and others get bigger and fiercer. Nature has its shrinking violets and shrieking beasts. Either way, their strategies are ways of saying, “nope, don’t engage with me,” as a means of self-protection.

For us humans, given our social pressures to be open, receptive, and “not negative,” our noping strategies are most convincing when we don’t notice that we have them. That way we can claim to be open when we’re not. We can pretend we don’t feel the need for self-protection and are instead open to everything and everyone.

The best way for meek nopers to ignore their own noping is to define noping as what the burly do. That way they can say, “Me?! I’m never negative or unreceptive. I never shout or glower. I’m just the victim of other people’s noping.”

With noping defined that narrowly, the meek don’t have to admit that there are less blustery ways to nope. One can nope high-mindedly by reaching for an imaginary moral rulebook to cite others for being inappropriate whenever one doesn’t want to listen to them. Or one can nope simply by acting hurt, thereby shaming people into backing down.

For us burley nopers, the best way to convince ourselves that we don’t nope is to pretend that our toughness on others is evidence that we’re tough too. “Me?! Obviously I’m tough. I speak my mind and don’t care what anyone thinks when I do.”

I know many touchy toughies. It comes so naturally to us big guys with deep loud voices. And there are a lot of touchy toughies on the political stage these days. Trump is a master of the touchy toughy approach. He’s famously touchy and yet he hides it by acting tough – tough on anyone who challenges him.

Noping is necessary. None of us can afford to listen to everything and everyone. If you’ve gotten a certain kind of feedback a lot and have decided not to heed it, there’s no reason to hear it again and again.

Noping is also necessary for psychic self-protection. To stay motivated and productive on whatever paths we have chosen, we need to keep our spirits high. Sometimes that means ignoring feedback that’s going to lower our spirits.

More than we notice, conversation and debate is driven by what I’ll call mojo management – this need to keep our spirits up. We can pretend that we’re open to all challenges, but we aren’t really. A piece of poorly-timed discouraging feedback can make our mojo plummet, making us less productive for days or weeks. We nope sometimes just to keep our mojo working.

Noping has its costs too. The most commonly recognized cost is social and moral. It’s unkind to be closed-minded, we’re told.

I like to focus on a more personal cost, a cost to us, not to others. When we say “nope” to people, shaming them meekly or scolding them loudly, we don’t usually get them to change their opinions, but instead to keep their opinions to themselves.

Is that what we want? Sure, sometimes.

But at other times, noping at people just invites them to keep us in the dark about what they think. That can come back to bite us. With people whose opinions matter to your success, you have to be careful not to invite them to keep you in the dark. If you make them walk on eggshells around you, they’ll eventually walk toward the exit or toward some kind of understandable backstabbing you wouldn’t want. Keep your supporters close and your detractors closer.

To find the noping sweet spot, nope sparingly. Don’t indulge in it just because you can get away with it. Get tough, and, to the extent you can, lose the touchy or you’ll also lose allies you really need – and useful feedback too, even if it hurts a little when you first hear it.