The Cold Shoulder

The Cold Shoulder

Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

Many of us have developed the knack of “the cold shoulder”.   That is, we go up to the edge of the impermissible in our personal relationships, and feel fairly good about it. For we have both satisfied an inner urge of ours, for example, to “get even” with another, while not going so far as for it to be evident to another that I have a grudge against him or her. That can be called: “the cold shoulder.”

The hypocrisy in this relies on appearances. For we appear in one way, exhibiting politeness in behaving properly and appropriately, while the hidden truth of the matter is that it is improper and even wrong, since we intend “to get even”, and so we can feign surprise if accused of acting inappropriately or wrongly. Often even the victim of our cold shoulder may not be sure any slight is intended, though a suspicion may linger, to that effect. But the victim may try to be overly suspicious.

As an instance of hypocrisy, the cold shoulder is a mixture of good and evil. There’s not enough good submerged in such a mode of action to make the perpetrator of it to feel sufficiently at ease with it, but, on the other hand it’s not clearly evident that anything evil is hidden within it. For the cold shoulder can be a lukewarm response to another’s overture, or a veiled remark that can have a double meaning, in a given situation, with retaliation as a possibility. Of course, such a remark or action may be accurately perceived by another, who can then respond “in kind”, so as to bring the whole exchange out into the open. Should that happen, then duplicity and hiddenness give way to blatent hostility.

Some of us are skilled at avoiding open confrontation and any obvious display of displeasure or anger at another, while developing a skill at getting back at another. As suggested, this may not clearly offend another, but it may generate suspicion.   A manufactured posture of indifference to another can be perfected into an art form designed to cover up hostility or anger, and this is what the cold shoulder means.

When perfected, the cold shoulder can be denied, unlike an open display of anger or upsetness, which is apparent to all. That is the inner evil of the cold shoulder—its attempt at hiding the evil intent involved by an ostensible façade of innocence. Indeed, when successfully implemented, it can feign ignorance or innocence by asking: is there something wrong? And this is the root problem of the cold shoulder: hypocrisy, pretending innocence even while intending a slight or even vengeance against another, at least to the extent of leaving another ill at ease in a situation.

It is one thing to engage in evil openly, to the point where it cannot be denied, regardless of any subterfuge employed to cover it up; so one is caught in the act. But it is another, and more serious matter, to attempt covering up the evil intended by assuming the guise of innocence. This adds duplicity to a relationship already listing toward shipwreck, so that it is the duplicity that emerges as the greater problem in the situation.

Should another feel a chill developing in a personal relationship, a suspicion may emerge that something deep is involved that cannot be surfaced; an element of irreversibility threatens the breakdown of the relationship. Hypocrisy adds the element of untruthfulness to a situation that muddies a situation that otherwise might have been brought to light and clarified, identified and confronted rather than remaining hidden, and so temporarily smoothed over, like a cancer escaping detection. Would it not be better to have the cancer diagnosed and exposed, rather than to have it elude discovery and leave everyone guessing?

If the device of the cold shoulder is utilized too often, it can atrophy and disable the use of one’s shoulder for better purposes than “getting even”.


2 thoughts on “The Cold Shoulder

  1. right on Fr. Sebby and sometimes we never get the true answer as to “why” the “cold shoulder” was given in the first place when we confront the individual, but it usually causes it to cease. Thanks again for your contributions to the blog.

  2. Thanks Father for another interesting and for me at least challenging conundrum. I think the problem is we don’t know each other, at least that’s why I give people the cold shoulder. I don’t actively tell myself: “Give this person the cold shoulder”. I usually don’t know them and think to myself: “They probably aren’t interested in getting to know me or to be my friend on Facebook”. One quick example immediately comes to my mind. I know many members of the Passionist Holy Cross Province. I’ve been privileged to share a meal or ministry or play a few games of tennis with them. I feel like I’ve been invited into their world or vice versa. Then there are the Passionist I really don’t know. Oh, I may know them superficially, i.e. we’ve gone to a meeting together or happen to be at Chapter together, but we’ve never done anything together that would make me think they are the slightest bit interested in being my friend or getting to know me as a fellow Passionist. I think we must share meaningful time together. We must move beyond the simple, “Hello, how are you” stage and function together. I’m reminded of the students I’ve worked with over my teaching career. The ones I went hiking in the mountains with for 10 days, I really got to know. I can’t imagine ever giving them the cold shoulder. The students that were in my class for a few days or even a few months, I’d probably pass on the street and not even know that we have had anything in common.

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