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How I Practice Getting Scolded

How I Practice Getting Scolded

One afternoon I was walking along a beach when suddenly the following sign appeared in front of me:

“Bird reserve: Access prohibited!”

Along the sign, a fence was strung across the beach, which went into the water. The fence was quite low, and without thinking about it, I jumped over the fence and continued my walk. A few kilometers further on, I spotted a man, who was sitting in the grass watching me through his binoculars. The man was balled, was wearing outdoor clothes, and on his feet, he wore long, green rubber boots. If I was not mistaken this man was an ornithologist, and as far as I could tell he was not happy to see me. This made me slow down a bit while I kept an eye on the man, who kept staring in my direction. It seemed clear that he was getting ready to give me a scolding for having ignored the sign. The question was whether I should continue my walk or avoid him by going back.

As I hesitated, it struck me that I have a history of trying to avoid being scolded, but why is scolding so unpleasant? A scolding feels like an assault and can create an emotional hangover. There are people whose scoldings you’ll go to extremes to avoid, and there are some who can shout at you without getting under your skin. Working on my ability to be in conflict was something I had mainly practiced with my changing girlfriends. Seen in this perspective, meeting an aggressive ornithologist represented a unique chance to practice being scolded by a stranger. Excited by these thoughts, I continued walking toward the grumpy ornithologist.

When being about ten meters from him he acted exactly as I had imagined. Standing up with his hands on his hips he shouted:


It would naturally be obvious to ask him the same question, but since he was dressed as a bird connoisseur, he probably had some sort of authorized permit.

“CAN’T YOU SEE THAT YOU’RE SCARING THE BIRDS — YOU IDIOT?!” he continued as huge flocks of scared birds took off all around us.

While he waited for me to respond, I took my time and considered my response. I could either give him an apology, claiming I hadn’t seen the sign, accuse him of speaking disrespectfully to me, talk to him soothingly, or do any number of combinations of the above. Had I been able to prove that I was also an ornithologist, he would surely have given me an apology. Had I been the first person who had defied the sign, he would no doubt have been less upset. There was probably a story behind his reaction, but I would hardly be able to talk to him about this in his current state of mind. Perhaps the ornithologist wasn’t mad at me at all, but he might just have had a bad morning — had been arguing with his wife or had forgotten his lunch pack. The possibilities were endless, but trying to inquire about his day would probably make things worse.

After careful consideration, I chose to answer his question as honestly as I could.

“I am here to practice being scolded,” I said, pondering a bit more before continuing, “I often try to run away from conflicts, but today I decided that I would act differently. If you feel like it, you are welcome to scold me some more.”

This made the man look completely stunned but after a few seconds, he came to his senses again. With an accusing voice, he now asked me if I hadn’t seen the sign.

“It’s interesting that you ask…,” I started and thought carefully again, “I saw the sign but the strange thing is that it didn’t stop me at all.” For a moment I scratched the back of my neck as I considered how to continue. Either I could try to open a social space between us by asking if he had ever ignored a sign himself. I could also ask who he was, and why the sign didn’t apply to him, or maybe I should ask if there was anything I could say that would give him more energy to continue the scolding. It also struck me that I could show sympathy for his situation, but this would most likely not come across as honest. No doubt he could sense that I had never been an ornithologist who had to scold an idiot walking through a bird reserve. Before I could think of something to say, he spoke again.

“Well, but you are not allowed to be here!” he squirmed as if to make sure the conflict was not forgotten.

“As I said before, I know I shouldn’t be here,” I said.

“But why did you ignore the sign?” he asked persistently.

“I don’t know,” I said, “that’s the problem. I saw the sign and then I went straight over the fence without thinking about whether it applied to me. Why do you think I ignored the sign?”

Now he looked completely confused.

“I don’t know!” he exclaimed, “and I don’t really care.”

“But you asked,” I said. “The least we can do is try to find the answer.”

Shaking his head, he pointed down a path that lay a little way off and said: “Go out that way. Then you don’t disturb the birds.”

“Ok,” I said and turned to go the way I came.

“NO!” he exclaimed, “why don’t you do as I say?”

“Because I practice being scolded,” I said. “If I don’t give you something to scold me about, I can’t practice.”

For a while, he considered what I had just said. Finally, he shook his head in resignation, sat down, and took out the binoculars to continue watching birds. The scolding was already over and now he was ignoring me. For a moment I wondered if it was my turn to scold him. After all, I had violated some important rules, and if he didn’t stop me, hardly anyone would. After some consideration, I chose to accept his resignation. Without a doubt, my willingness to be scolded made me a difficult target and if I wanted to be scolded in the future I would surely be more successful by trying to avoid conflicts.

A bit wiser on conflicts, I continued my illegal walk along the beach while hoping to find a new and more aggressive ornithologist further down the beach.

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