Why Insults Hurt—And Why They Shouldn’t

Ideas

I became interested in the social function of insults while doing research on the Stoic philosophers, who spent a lot of time thinking about how best to deal with them. I thought this was an odd thing for philosophers to do, but ultimately realized that they were on to something. After all, one role of philosophy is to teach us how to have a good life, and insults—whether blatant, benign, or even backhanded—have the power to make us miserable.

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What I realized was that the pain caused by insults is really just a symptom of a far more serious ailment: our participation in the social hierarchy game. We are people who need to be among people. The problem is that once we are among them, we feel compelled to sort ourselves into social hierarchies. If we were wolves, we’d fight to…

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