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The people who just want to be adversarial

As I was growing up, I had a cousin who was born a couple of weeks after I was. Our relationship was a good one growing up, but I noticed something about him early on. He was always being adversarial towards me, and the worst example came at the most inopportune time. We were at a military checkpoint in Mexico when a soldier asked me what I did for a living. I told the soldier that I was a medical technologist. “Nah-ah,” my cousin countered, “you’re not.” The soldier looked at me in confusion. I had to explain to him that I had just graduated from school. As we drove away, my cousin said to me that I couldn’t say I was a medical technologist until I worked as one.

That was the worst example, but there are plenty of others that are not as dangerous but hundreds of times more annoying. That’s the reason why I blocked him on social media. It didn’t matter what I posted, he would find a way to comment something in opposition to what I wrote. He’d always chalk it up to “just kidding,” but it was annoying, and I put a stop to it.

Now, my wife is the one dealing with an adversarial relative. She has a cousin who is of the more “conservative” persuasion. My wife is more “liberal.” And they’ve been butting heads over political and non-political things on Facebook for a while now. But the latest round of disagreement made me want to do a face-palm.


Sometimes two palms are not enough.

Yes, yes… I’m biased. In 99% of arguments, I’m going to side with my wife. Heck, I might even side with her that extra 1% of the time she’s not exactly correct. But hear me out…

As it turns out, the Pennsylvania legislature is looking at a bill that would require people to be “eligible” to buy a handgun. My wife posted the link to a news story about it on Facebook and her cousin was, as usual, quick to be adversarial:


“That’s bullshit,” he wrote. “Better not go anywhere. A right does not need a license.”

Out of all the comments he’s made recently — some of which Professor Reuben Gaines has engaged him on — this one was the best (or worst, depending on how you look at it). I know her cousin. I’ve met him at family gatherings. He’s not really as dumb as some of his comments make him out to be. Like my cousin, this cousin just wants to be adversarial, in my opinion.

The truth is that all of the rights given to us by the Constitution have limits. Local, state and federal laws can and have been passed in order to limit our rights. As a constitutional expert explains:

“In only one place in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights is there a provision that flatly bars the government from regulating one of the protected rights. That is in the First Amendment, declaring that “Congress shall make no law respecting” the rights listed in that Amendment. The “right to keep and bear arms” is not one of those rights; it is contained in the Second Amendment.

Over the time since 1791, when the Bill if Rights was ratified, the Supreme Court has given its blessing to an entire governing edifice that regulates First Amendment rights: the laws of libel and defamation, limits on publishing secret military strategy, regulation of “obscene” and “indecent” expression, and limits on “hate speech.” Famously, the court has said that one has no right to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Even the right to worship freely sometimes is curbed by laws that regulate conduct that has religious meaning.”

So that’s the best answer that I have for “Mike,” but I’m not going to get into it. He and my wife are adults, and I’ve seen her play mind games enough to know that she will deal with him nicely, as she has dealt with other adversaries.

As much as I love to play mind games with the most dangerous of prey — humans — there are times when you just have to recognize that someone is being adversarial because that’s all they have to provide to a conversation. It’s either their way of gaining attention that they don’t get in other ways, or their way to show you that they are smarter than you… Because the best way to say show intelligence is to say “nah-ah” and kick you in the shin.


It’s not even fair sometimes how easily one can dispatch with birdbrains.

So consider the source when someone tries to bait you into an argument, or when someone feels that uncontrollable urge to just oppose you at every opportunity. If they do it out of habit, ignore them and move on to the discussions that will enrich your life, or will help enrich the lives of others. It’s something that has taken me a lot of time to learn, but I am happier and less stressed now that I’ve learned it.

On the other hand, if you’re bored and feel like playing a mind game, go ahead and friend my wife on Facebook so you can get to meet “Mike.”

Categories: Blog My Picks

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René F. Najera, DrPH

I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
About History of Vaccines: I am the editor of the History of Vaccines site, a project of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Please read the About page on the site for more information.
About Epidemiological: I am the sole contributor to Epidemiological, my personal blog to discuss all sorts of issues. It also has an About page you should check out.

7 replies

  1. My relatives are one of the primary reasons I don’t do Facebook. My form of social media is to send out one of those infamous Christmas letters. It’s once a year, and often quite short. No chance of immediate feedback.


    1. My form of social media is picking up the phone and talking, or visiting in person.
      Oddly, one doesn’t get all of that rude crap that one gets online when one is face to face with one another.

      Still, I might brave FB to meet Mike. 😉
      The first question would be, “Whatever happened to states rights” and a gentle reminder that all rights do indeed have limits.

      Although the law guidance was less detailed than I’m comfortable, a SCOTUS justice used the shout of fire in a crowded movie theater as an example of what is not protected, due to the harm it could cause. For any interested, the case was Schenck v. United States.
      One may have a religion that has human sacrifice, but that also would be prohibited, as one is depriving another of their life without due process. The various limitations are too numerous to go on in a comment, but all revolve around maintaining a stable society and government.


  2. I’m surprised by a ‘constitutional expert’ saying

    “Famously, the court has said that one has no right to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater.”

    The quote was used in argument to justify jailing people for anti-war advocacy by Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. who did not stand by it for long … though it’s true that not all speech is protected, this specific example is not *necessarily* unprotected speech

    for a better written and more detailed background is worth reading


    1. Erm, the case law is, “fighting words”, words designed to cause a riot and words designed to cause a panic are not protected.
      Yes, the verdict was an anti-war protester, however the descriptions of prohibited public speech remain intact, lest our nation dissolve into riot beyond riot, rather than the rare, occasional riot in a city or two.

      Still, you’re welcome to go to a BLM rally or NAACP convention and drop the N bomb, when white.
      You’re welcome to attend a LGBT gathering and call a woman a misspelling of an obstruction to water or call a man a gathering of sticks.
      You’re even welcome to move upward and plan the violent overthrow of our government, with a large, armed group.
      Not a chunk of that is protected free speech, the former examples are inciting a riot, the latter, sedition.

      Every right has restrictions and duties. Welcome to your first lesson on *some* of the limitations on free speech.
      Dammit, I *know* you’re smarter than that!


  3. Oh, for crying out loud: my sisters have resorted to sending Christmas greeting via phone texts. AAArgh!


    1. Ah, just message back, “Cherry Mistmas and a Yappy Hew Near”.
      I’ve seen smoke come out of some ears when I’ve said it. 😀


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