My mother grew up in South Georgia where, according to her, “the roaches grow as big as your thumb.” She says she would occasionally return to the kitchen for a late night snack or a glass of water. She’d switch on the light and too often she would spy one or more of those nasty monster roaches scurrying into cracks and crevices, hurrying out of sight.
When I learned about this phenomenon, I considered a parallel: sometimes people act like roaches, spreading nastiness with every flick of their tongues. What kind of light could cause these humanesque roaches to skitter away? I came up with several.
One light is the statement “That’s mean.” I know of grown men and women who still make jokes at the expense of others. It’s tempting to throw back a barb or two of our own, isn’t it? But, really, we don’t need to become roaches to defeat them. Just turn on the light by saying, “That’s mean.” If the person then continues to pick on you, repeat yourself. (Some roaches are nearsighted, and may need you to keep turning up the voltage on your light.)
Another great light is the question, “Could you explain?” This light works particularly well on roaches who cloak their insults in false compliments. These roaches say things like, "You sure are brave to try college after the mess you made of high school." When someone says something like this to you, pull out your light and say, “Could you explain?” Continue to ask the question as long as you get an answer. Eventually, the roach will get frustrated and either escape to a darker place or say something outright nasty. If they do that, you say, “That’s mean.”
A twist on this same tactic works when the roach asks an insulting or invasive question. Shine the light on them by responding, “Why do you ask?” Imagine hearing the question, “Honey, haven’t you put on a few extra pounds lately?” Now pick up your light and say, “Why do you ask?” The rest of the conversation just might go like this:
“Well, those jeans are looking a little snug.”
“Oh. Could you explain?”
“I mean you look like you’ve gained weight!”
“Whoa. That’s mean.”
By this time, the roach has probably clued into your message: “Don’t bother me. I’ve got a light and I know how to use it!”