How to Respond When Someone Insults Your Convictions

It can be hard to know what to do when someone makes a thoughtful remark that is insulting to your convictions, values or beliefs. It's even harder when that person wasn't thoughtless at all, but made a pointed effort to be insulting. Fortunately, that's rare - most often, insults like these are the result of ignorance. Knowing how to respond appropriately can make all the difference between managing a potential conflict or fanning the flames; this article provides you with the tools for responding effectively.


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    Don't react immediately. Take a moment to gather your thoughts before saying or doing anything, no matter how much the comment may have stung. If you know you have a bad temper, or are prone to angry outbursts, read How to Release Anger.
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    Speak up for your convictions, but do it in a calm, rational manner. You don't have to lower yourself to the level of the ignorant, but if, for good reason, you don't want to let the comment pass without answering it, even if it wasn't directed at you, then you do want to make sure any response is not seen as a fanatical, knee-jerk reaction. As a matter of fact, it's best not to react, but instead, respond in a reasonable manner.
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    Stop taking things so personally, and you can give the person the benefit of the doubt. If there is any doubt, that is. In other words, if the remark was offhanded, and particularly if it came from someone you hardly know, there's a good chance that person has no idea the remark might offend you. Rather than assuming that the statement was intended to be insulting, give the benefit of the doubt, and allow for some ignorance on the part of the speaker.
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    Ask a question rather than making a statement. If the remark was something to the effect of, "What kind of idiot do you have to be to vote for him?" (and you do plan to vote for him), try responding with, "What would make you say that? What is it about him with which you disagree so strongly?" Find out. Maybe the person has some personal vendetta - some personal reason that made him speak out so strongly. If that's the case, there's very little you can do:
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    Play Devil's Advocate. Rather than engaging in one-to-one personal combat, instead take the more diplomatic tack of just assuming a contrary position, for the sake of discussion: Say, "Yeah, there are a lot of people who feel like you do - but the people on the other side would say that a vote for this man is a vote for smaller government, a better school system, etc., etc." In this way, you are making the argument a bit more general, and therefore a lot less personal - you're saying, "There are those who would see it this way...", you're not saying, "Hey, jerk weed, I'm that kind of 'idiot.' Now shut your fat mouth before I shut it for you." You can see the difference.
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    Try to be as diplomatic as possible if you feel the need to reveal your position. Rather than being inflammatory and picking a fight, like in the previous example, identify yourself with tact and generosity for the other person's point of view - even though that person didn't really accord you the same courtesy. There are times when it makes sense to step up and reveal your secret identity. For example, someone who goes on and on about how religion is the cause for every ill in the world, while you are a devoted Christian. Getting up in that person's face will do little to further your cause. Try this:
    • Him: "More people have been killed in the name of irrational beliefs like religion than any other cause. The harm ideas like religion have caused is unforgivable."
    • You: "Wait a second. That's not right."
    • Him: "Yes it is. If we didn't have religion, we wouldn't have half the problems in this world that we have."
    • You: "I respectfully disagree. I'm a Christian, and I hear this a lot. The truth is, yes, there have been some so-called holy wars. I don't agree with that, and I didn't agree with the Crusades, either. Nobody should get killed or shunned because they do or don't want to join a particular religion. But the reality is that all the people killed in the Inquisition and the Crusades and all the other holy wars don't even come close to the people killed by Hitler - 6 million + - that wasn't in the name of God, it was in the name of "protecting his master race". Or what about Stalin's 20 million? He killed simply because the more terror he could engender in the survivors, the easier they were to control. And what about Mao, Pol Pot, and others? Their tens of millions dwarf those killed in the "name of God." So while I don't argue about the Crusaders or the Holy War fanatics killing people, I think you're mistaken here."
    • Him: "Your points only serve to prove my argument. Though Hitler and Stalin weren't religious, they followed strongly irrational beliefs, which are the underlying issue that makes religion harmful."
    • You: "I never had thought of that before. I understand where you are coming from. There are all kinds of crazy people, of all persuasions. Some people kill saying it's in the name of God, but I really don't think God has anything to do with what those people are doing. You may not agree with religion in general, and I'm not asking you to. But I am asking you to realize that not all Christians are crazy fanatics. Can we agree to disagree?" (So, hold your hand out and offer to shake hands and agree to disagree, if nothing else.).
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    Tell that person you feel insulted. If you still haven't made your point, let the other person know that, while s/he is entitled to his/her opinion, likewise, so are you. Let him/her know that those remarks are hurtful to you, and ask that s/he tone it down, if for no other sake than courtesy to another person, on a humanitarian level. Learn how to express yourself with nonviolent communication.
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    Take the high road. No matter what the response is from that person who's going off on you, you must maintain your cool. In the end, if you are kindly and gentle in your response to that person, s/he is the one who will end up looking bad to the other people present. No matter what kind of person you're dealing with, the only thing you need to worry about is what kind of person you are.


  • One very simple thing to do is have good manners and don’t sink to their level. Instead, smile and politely say ",I think freedom is about the right to have one’s own beliefs." Instead of insulting them you will remind them gently that your beliefs may differ from theirs, and that that is natural. Even if they intend to insult you, others will see you are a good person and come to the conclusion that the person who insulted you is not.
  • If you do stand up, there's a good chance others who are like-minded will join you. That's a good thing because you will have more support for your position, but only so long as they maintain their cool. If it starts getting too hot, tone it down - suggest you table the discussion for another time, or make a plan to meet with the person you disagree with to discuss it one on one.
  • Keep an open mind. If the other person appears to be making a logical argument, they may also have information about the issue that you were unaware of. Be prepared to listen and concede points if you are wrong.
  • It will be far better to be winsome and appealing in these situations, even if the person making the insulting comments is doing it deliberately. All those watching will certainly view you as more polite and respectful than your adversary is, and this is going to make them view you much more favorably than the other person. That goes a long way toward making your point.
  • Agree to disagree without an interminable smirk. Say, "You made some good points..." It was interesting to discuss this with you.
  • Get a drink - doesn't matter what kind. If you are holding a drink, you will have something to occupy your hands, and it tends to keep the other person from shoving or getting in your face, as while you're holding something, it tends to be in front of you, extending the perception of your personal space.
    • If you tend to get more emotional or argue when you drink alcohol, however, make sure it's a non-alcoholic drink.
  • There are always communication gaps. Try to realize that what the person wants to deliver your antenna didn't receive the right signal.
  • Take a moment. If you feel offended by another person's comment about religion, that feeling may be the product of an upbringing in which free inquiry about your faith doctrines was discouraged, sometimes strongly, and seen as offensive. Those feelings, though real, are subjective, and will not always be apparent to those who were brought up in a more intellectually open environment. If the person you are listening to you otherwise seems thoughtful, take the opportunity to explain, not defend, your faith position; conversely, ask questions - take advantage of the opportunity to learn about their philosophy. This discussion can end in greater mutual respect, rather than conflict.


  • Don't assume just because someone offends you that they are thoughtless. Sometimes we are over sensitive to things people say. People don't have to share our feelings to be friends.
  • You don't have to establish boundaries just because you can; you may find it serves you well to be friendly and thoughtful .
  • If you have to defend your convictions or feel the "need" to respond at all when someone "insults" your convictions, then you probably don't have a very strong "conviction" in the first place. Why respond at all, and why assume that when someone disagrees with you they are "ignorant" and you are "right"?
  • Don't let the debate descend into a shouting match, or worse, a fistfight. If it even looks like it might, shrug helplessly and smile at all those around, then say, "Well, looks like I can't win here. Good night, all." Thank your host, and go.
  • Don't forget prayer if faith and belief is among your convictions. Prayer may be a way to think and to seek right attitudes spiritually and emotionally. You can make it clear that you are a Christian without saying much to students at school, acquaintances or coworkers.

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