How to deal with many of the world's troublemakers

Nobody lives on planet Earth for long without discovering that it's full of troublemakers - people who delight in making life difficult for others. Almost immediately most of us start our interactions with other people as young children, we come across some kid who wants to stir things up for no good reason. Gossipers, bullies, back-stabbers, drama queens, busy-bodies and mischief-makers lie in wait for us in any social situation.

Waste of time that most of these people are, how to deal with them can become a major issue in almost any person's life. So how do you do it?

The first thing to realize is what trouble making is all about. Generally, it's nothing but amusement, with a bit of power-projection thrown in for good measure. People find nothing more interesting and entertaining than conflict. It's the basis of most of our stories - from fine literature to trashy movies.

The general formula for a good story goes something like this - first create a character the audience can relate to, then cause that character to run across some kind of terrible difficulty arising from conflict with another character, finally sit back and watch how the whole thing sorts itself out. For whatever reason, this formula seems to push all our buttons in exactly the right way. The proof is that this basic story has been told thousands of times to fascinated audiences from ancient times to the present.

But for many people, fictional representations of this formula aren't enough. They want to see it unfold in real life. And the easiest way to do that is by seeding a conflict by creating a big problem for someone else and seeing what happens.

Comedian Mel Brooks summed it up nicely when he said: "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die".

Most of the world's troublemakers learn their art early, often before they're ten years old, and continue using them throughout life. Each of them has a favorite strategy, some of which are listed below:
  • Engaging in threats or acts of violence.
  • Gossip.
  • Vandalism, sometimes disguised as accident.
  • Shocked offense at the most petty of "crimes".
  • Drunkenness or drug addiction.
  • Back-stabbing.
  • Bullying.
  • Nasty abuse intended to emotionally wound.
Some of them refine their art to a level where it can be quite sophisticated. They become experts at manipulating the actors in their set-ups, so they can maximize the emotional impact. Others are stupid and brutish, using tactics that any five year-old would recognize.

Even the sophisticated ones are usually pretty easy to spot, given a bit of time. Because they generally have a favorite tactic, you can see very similar scenes being played out in almost all of their relationships. The violent drunk usually has run-ins with almost all his friends, the gossip says bad things about pretty much everybody, the abusers manage to offend most people they meet.

Usually, such people will draw you into their game through promises of friendship and the like. They can be extremely charming, flirtatious and polite in the early stages because they know this helps create the maximum impact for when the knives come out.

Generally, practiced troublemakers are losers and poor achievers. Such activities require a lot more work than meets the eye, and often end in destroyed relationships. It's difficult to achieve worldly success and engage in sustained troublemaking at the same time. Some may find a sponsor in the guise of a spouse or a generous parent, but few will be able to achieve success independently.

Which brings me to the core weakness of most mischief-makers, they usually don't have much in the way of tangible rewards to offer for engaging with them. Apart from a false promise of friendship, there isn't much else they bring into most relationship transactions. Because of their lack of outside achievement, they rarely hold much sustainable power, money or skills which puts them in a bad negotiating position with the outside world. That's why they generally go for emotional attachment early on, as it gives them some currency to play with.

Deny them that currency, and their entire facade falls apart. Once you've identified their game, make it clear that you have no interest in playing, and that you want nothing to do with them. Usually, they'll slink away when they see they can't get any leverage out of you.

Another trick they may try is attacks on your reputation. They'll make slurs against your pride or good character in a desperate attempt to get a rise out of you. It can be very tempting to engage them and attempt to regain any damage they may have done, but it's usually a good idea not to. Doing so is likely to be more damaging than anything. These types of troublemaker are generally less powerful than they appear in the reputation-damaging department, simply because their history makes people wary of listening to their opinions.

In most cases, when you find yourself having to deal with such a person, the best thing to do is take a cold, rational look at what you stand to lose by dropping all relations with them. If it boils down to simply their friendship, or some kind of hazy reputational worries, then get away from them as fast as you can and don't come back. They're simply not worth it.

As the popular bumper sticker says: "I'm sorry, but you seem to have mistaken me for somebody who cares what you think".

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