Condescension is a behavior people can see right through

“Of what use is it to be tolerant of others if you are convinced that you are right and everyone who disagrees with you is wrong? That isn’t tolerance but condescension.” – Anthony de Mello

The word condescension is familiar to most, but few actually know what it truly means.

Condescension is an attitude or behavior exhibited by those who truly believe they are more intelligent or better than other people.

Beyond not knowing what the word means, many more fail to realize how often they practice condescension among their peers, their subordinates, their friends and their family.

Dr. Frank J. Ninivaggi shared his thoughts on the subject in an article he appropriately titled, “Condescension is Manifest Envy”.

In it he writes, “A common phenomenon illustrating the surfacing of envy is “condescension” and “patronizing”. The person suffering from envy behaves with impertinence, lack of mutual respect, subject contempt and downright bad manners masked by needing to control.”

This persona might sound like someone you know – in truth, it might sound like yourself.

Our jealousy or envy towards another person causes us to treat them poorly because our internal defense leads us to believe that if we do so, we’ll feel better. All it really winds up doing is branding us as arrogant, pompous and uncaring – causing many to pull away from the relationship.

In the book Life’s Journey’s According to Mister Rogers, he shares the following story:

My personal introduction to the Dalai Lama was by way of television – in a hotel room. I was in Washington D.C., preparing for a conference on children and the media and was looking for a certain news program when I happened upon His Holiness saying, “Someone else’s action should not determine your response.” I was so intrigued, I wrote down those words, turned off the television and thought about nothing else the whole evening.

“Someone else’s action should not determine your response.” It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? And yet what if someone else’s action should be shouting angry words at us or hitting us with a rotten tomato? That doesn’t affect what we do in response? Not if our compassion is genuine. Not if our love is the kind the Dalai Lama advocates.

There will always be those who utilize condescension as a tool for coping through their personal envy. But it’s important to recognize their inability to deal with their feelings (and reality) and not allow their action to determine your response.

For as Amitava Kumar once remarked, “There is no point in fighting condescension with condescension.”