There is a new name for a very, very old mental disorder plaguing our country. It’s been identified as “antagonism” (a noun) and the suffering person is deemed the antagonist. Actually, it is not the antagonist who suffers most; it’s everyone who knows the antagonist.
The antagonist is a person who has so little self-esteem, they compensate by waging war with people they perceive in some role of authority. They are everywhere -- at home, at work, at clubs and social organizations, even at churches. They seek to control everyone around them, especially to join their hostile efforts.
A newspaper reporter and I were in Nairobi, Kenya, when we decided to take a day and explore the countryside. Not far outside the city we drove into a cluster of giraffes and wildebeests. There were two giraffes fairly close so we inched our Jeep their way. We stopped, grabbed our cameras and started our scrapbooks with some great shots on foot.
All the while, we were slipping closer and closer to the giraffes, and then suddenly they galloped away. With big grins we stowed our cameras and turned toward the Jeep proud of the pictures we took. At once, we both learned why the giraffes ran away. Standing between us and our Jeep were three female lions.
We planned to show off our photos to friends at home. We had though to boast of conquering the Dark Continent with our cameras and with our bravery for approaching African animals in the wild. Now we were staring down three huge lions, each about 20 feet long with teeth long as swords. Maybe we weren’t in as much control as we thought. The fact had escaped us that we were not at the top of the food chain in this place.
The doors were closing and the lights were dimming on our souls.
The antagonist often angers those around them. Suddenly people have to contend with issues and problems they didn’t anticipate or need. Like the proverbial “bull in a china shop” the antagonist doesn’t give much thought to the damage they create about them. To feed their needy egos, they often slash people they never gave a thought about.
As they zero in on the church pastor they can close the church doors with their turmoil; people may join the battle or flee the conflict. But the doors close on the antagonists as well.
How obnoxious we were. On a very different continent, very far from our own, we pranced around the countryside as if it were our own. We stalked the giraffes while they kept track of the stalking lions. We made it worse as the giraffes had to keep an eye on us as well as the lions.
The remedy to the antagonist’s pushy intrusions into the lives of others is to ignore them. It saps their strength. To the five-page letter of complaints the pastor is advised to simply write “noted” and send it back. There are few things more disarming than to be ignored.
As we stood still as Buckingham Palace guards in honor (fear actually) of the lions before us, the stately animals walked right past us. They didn’t look at us or acknowledge our presence in any way. They simply sauntered very slowly our way but they would not be concerned about us. My temptation to reach out to pat a cat was controlled by a vision of learning to write with my left hand.
When we could finally see three tails we knocked each other down climbing into the Jeep. The students had learned their lessons well. It wasn’t our rules in effect; it was African Rift Valley rules, and we needed to behave accordingly. We needed to accommodate, not destruct. We needn’t creep up on animals in the wild; that’s what long range lenses are for. We weren’t antagonists exactly, but we did antagonize (verb). We needed to show some respect. All this we learned because we had been ignored by the best teachers in the world.
Tom Scholl is a resident of Macon. He writes every other week for The Telegraph.