One can like everyone one meets for a few seconds (or even minutes) but one can only like a few for always: true friends can be counted just using the fingers of one hand. That’s a simple fact of social life and applies particularly well in small mountain populations like the comune of Bagni di Lucca, where one is always bumping into people one knows from some part or other. I read somewhere that undergraduates spend their first year at university making friends and their second year trying to forget most of them! Something like that happens here and its main evidence is seen in an action known as snubbing. The word snubbing can mean a type of heavy well intervention performed on oil and gas wells involving running a pipe string using a hydraulic workover rig. But I’m not referring to that technical meaning here! Rather, I’m defining snubbing as a way to pretend that a former friend is not so any more.
Snubbing, of course, occurs throughout the world. At school I remember unfortunate pupils being sent “to Coventry” by others. The phrase comes from the fact that the city of Coventry in the United Kingdom had one of the strictest monasteries, where misbehaving monks were sent and punished by being given a vow of silence. Snubbing can take various forms. In its mildest way one can be greeted by a polite, but curt, “hello” which makes it known that no further communication is necessary. In its severest form it can lead to complete silence and avoidance. If snubbing degenerates even further it can direct itself to actual violence, but then it becomes assault.
There’s hardly anybody I know that hasn’t been subject to this hurtful and cowardly way of (not) conducting human relations – hurtful, because it clearly impinges on one’s own sensitivity and hurts one’s feelings, and cowardly because the person inflicting it has not the courage or decency to say why they are indulging in this kind of ridiculous behaviour.
Examples I draw are: the mother who, collecting her children from school, gets ignored by the other mums (sometimes even her children get ignored by them), the person who greets all those seated at a dinner table individually and ignores one of them blatantly, the person who when seeing another walking towards them on the pavement immediately stops and crosses the road to be on the other side. Another example is coming across a familiar group of people seated at a table in a bar and noticing on one’s greeting that one of them (the snubber) gets up and silently departs.
It’s OK if one doesn’t really want to be friends with the person who is doing the snubbing – it can be an easy way out of an embarrassing situation. But it clearly is not OK if the snubber is someone who was a friend, who received hospitality, commensality, advice or help and who one remembers as having passed some pleasant times together.
The stupidest snubber is the person who hasn’t properly met and spent at least some time in one’s company. Gossip can become an alarming thing, and can develop into rumour and, what is worse, slander. This type of snubber has an essentially weak personality and will believe blather about someone from anyone who spouts it out. Unlike Shakespeare’s “Othello”, he or she will be unable to understand the axiom “speak of me as I am”. Rather, they will speak of someone as others convince them to speak.
In the play we all know what end awaits Iago, a truly evil slanderer and, what is worse, a liar whose lies can, and do, kill. There is no-one worse than a liar, in my opinion for no-one can potentially do more damage in society. Indeed, lying and snubbing go together, as the snubber not only believes lies about the people he or she snubs but is also lying against their own better selves by pretending – thus preparing the ground for a personality breakdown.
What to do about snubbing? The best way out is to ignore it all. The snubber is often out to hurt, at least emotionally, so one must make out that their action is like water off a duck’s back, if you are the duck! I realize it’s often very difficult to do this and one would like to say (or even scream) a word (or two) to the offending party. But the person suffering is ultimately the snubber because they have destroyed a part of their emotional response (perhaps even through those green-eyed monsters – jealousy and envy) and are, therefore, to be pitied rather than to get worked up about. If anyone’s read “Pride and Prejudice” then they’ll know what I mean; Jane Austen was perhaps the most observant and creative person to deal with this silly and unnecessary behavioural trait and she knew what she was writing about first-hand!
PS If you didn’t know what a snubbing unit looks like here’s a picture of one – at least it’s more productive (and colourful) than the (in)human variety…