I can’t stand being patronised. It makes me bloody angry, brings out my inner mere-wife and brings me as close to homicidal aggression as I am ever likely to get. And yet those who are experts in this demonic art deal in subtle shades, in whisper-behind-the-fan Courtly suggestion; their currency is nuance. You cannot pin the buggers down because there is a greasy layer of ambivalence, of deliberate double meaning; because they are able to dig a deep and effective trap which, when you fall into it, shows you up as a paranoid, ungrateful, nasty swine!
Patronising another is analogous to praising with faint damn, as you might say. The honeyed artifice of the apparent compliment hides the painful sabre-tooth of venomous disdain – and yet such is the web of nuance, the clever rhetoric, the shark-like smiles and all the rest of the tricks of this most diabolic of trades that one’s instinctive anger, affront and hurt gets lost in speciousness and surface glister.
The nuances involved in this game are like the famous Welsh portrait of two women, or the equally infamous Magic Eye phenomenon: Not everyone can see the image, or images; they are open to misinterpretation and the wobbly nature of so-called subjective reality allows a great wedge of doubt to jam the visual certainty. Double, even treble and quadruple, thinking becomes the norm – with the patronised one, suspecting a velvet-smooth insult in the lavish praise, becoming terrified that failure to truly get the flattery indicates a wasteland of a spirit, rampant ingratitude or neurosis so developed that immediate psychiatric assistance should be sought.
Nuances, like butterflies, do not survive for long – and this is why they are so hard to pin down, unpick – prove. This is why it is so easy for those who patronise others on a regular basis to get away with it, to claim innocence, to turn the hidden condescension into more overt humiliation.
I do not like being looked down upon, considered to be inferior, subtly sneered at. But it does make me laugh – in a bitter and cynical way – when life’s most obdurate patronisers are apparently unable to see how obvious they are, actually, being because, utterly englamoured by their own nefarious nuancing, they forget to allow for the intelligence and perception of those they are so intent upon despising.