Bullies and Mismatched Senders

As described in Malcom Gladwell’s book Taking to Strangers, a strong body of research has revealed that many people have mannerisms that are incorrectly interpreted by others. The academic literature refers to such people as “mismatched senders,” because their non-verbal communication does not match what they intend to communicate. Or rather, to place the blame where it belongs: Many people erroneously think that they can deduce things from non-verbal communication, and mismatched senders are the victims of that error.

I am a mismatched sender. I have often been told this by people who become acquainted with me. Apparently my bearing superficially suggests an arrogance that really isn’t there. I am prone to smile or laugh when I am nervous or confused. Et cetera. Unless you have read Gladwell’s book, you might be surprised at the problems this can create.

I have also been a target of bullies my whole life. Physical bullying mostly stopped when I became dangerous: At age 12 I gave two bullies black eyes and that was the end of that. There was no payoff to psychological bullying because I didn’t have many friends and didn’t seem to care.

But I’m still an attractive target to people who are looking for somebody to take down a notch. Where do bullies go when they grow up? I believe a disproportionate number go into law enforcement, where they are equipped and paid to bully, and where their victims are at a systemic disadvantage to defend themselves. Police abuse has finally gotten enough attention that this should not be a controversial hypothesis. And this hypothesis might explain some of the abuse I have personally suffered at the hands of law enforcement. (More on that to come in future posts….)

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