Tag Archives: the human condition

Out of Egypt

As I mentioned, one of my cousins and his wife are living in Cairo. They’re out safely now. Two of his brothers, in particular, were helpful in getting them out and finding places for them to stay. The rest of the siblings (there are a lot of cousins from that family) helped pass news along through Facebook. It was both touching and impressive to watch all of this play out online — the next time I’m confronted by Facebook haters, this story will be Exhibit A for why the technology can an exceptionally good way to keep in touch. The story also reminded me, in a smaller though infinitely more immediate way, of a post I wrote back in 2007, after I’d watched “Hotel Rwanda.” I said, in part,

One thing that has stuck with me since seeing the movie, however, is that Paul Rusesabagina, the movie’s hero, who in the movie and in life managed to save some twelve hundred Tutsis and moderate Hutus from slaughter–was able to do this, in large part, because he had good manners. Mr. Rusesabagina is no action hero, and no idealist, either. He is a man who knows how to finesse a situation. How to figure out quickly what motivates people, and use that knowledge to negotiate with them. How to bank favors against an uncertain future. How to restrain himself in the face of provocation. How to maintain dignity and grace, and extend that possibility to others.

Most of us, I hope, will never be faced with a crisis the likes of which Mr. Rusesabagina faced. But what he did should help us remember that the small skills of manners, self-restraint, intuition, empathy are not frills, moral accessories, to be put on when we are feeling the luxuries of time and emotional energy. They are essential tools that can save lives, literally and figuratively.

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The week’s over, friends.

Thank you for all your kind words and wishes and prayers. I have been held in the light by so many people this week I am starting to get tan. It has been a remarkable time of learning.

I will write more next week about some of my reflections, and a personal matter that amplified and changed my reactions to the Tucson shooting. In the meantime, know that I am well, that I am grateful for your love — and that I am throwing an absolutely fabulous party tomorrow night! (Also, if you are a Boston-dwelling friend of mine whom I didn’t invite, know that I wanted to. It’s a themed storytelling party, so I could only invite a certain number of people. But if it works out well, I’ll have the same party every year with a different guest list. So you’ll get your turn!)

Be good to yourselves this weekend, my friends.

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I have nothing.

I feel like “Miss Conduct” ought to have wise words about civility and the inherent difficulty of living with others. She should be able to put the events of this weekend into historical context. She should give her readers hope.

I can’t.

Maybe because I lost someone I loved and respected on Friday night, and that has thrown me off balance. Maybe because the reactions of my family to this weekend’s shooting have me eating my guts out from within. Perhaps Robin has too much going on to be Miss Conduct.

Or maybe Miss Conduct has nothing to say. No wisdom. No snappy retort.

I spent a lot of time on Sunday reading the Psalms. And listening to the Ramones. Both are remarkably cathartic in times of emotional upheaval. (I wanna be sedated. Selah.)

Find wiser words elsewhere. Already more ink has been spilled than blood.

All I have for you is the knowledge that you matter to me. You do. Friend or commenter or lurker, I love you.

I may take a break from this blog for a couple of days. I don’t know. Please don’t worry about me if I do — it won’t mean I’m not capable of writing, only that I need to take care of myself in other ways.

Take care of yourselves too.

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Robin Abrahams and the Spectacles of Immersion

The last month of 2010 decided to gift me with two reminders that I am aging: my first white eyebrow hair, and the fact that I need reading glasses to — well, read. (Fortunately, I can see well enough to pluck my eyebrows unaided. Buh-bye, Whitey! Don’t come back, and don’t bring more of your friends!)

I’ve had corrective lenses since I can remember — glasses since third grade or so, and contacts since high school.* So the concept wasn’t exactly unfamiliar to me. And you all know how I love accessories, so I was quick to snap up several sharp pairs of specs: the red rhinestone ones and the leopard frames with pink metal earpieces are my favorites.

But as much as I might enjoy officiously putting on my specs and twirling a freshly sharpened pencil in the air as I begin an editing job, or dramatically divesting myself of them before ordering at a restaurant — and I do — it’s using them for plain old reading at home that I enjoy most. It’s made reading magical again.

I mean, there the book is in front of me, and I can’t make sense of it, and then I put these glasses on, and just like that I am transported! Into 19th-century England, modern-day Westport (v. good, that one), an academy of magic, outer space, ancient Greece, anywhere! Seriously, there is something about putting on the glasses that feels like a ritualistic preparation, making me able to enter the World of the Book. I think I’m reading in an even more immersed fashion than I usually do. Swimming up from the depths of a book feels a little harder now.

What a funny Christmas gift, for someone who has no need of them. A disability that turns life magical again.

*The ConductMom, apparently, had no idea how bad my vision is. She tried on my real glasses, not my readers, when she was here on Thanksgiving and nearly fell over backwards. “My poor baby!” she cried. I sympathized with her and pointed out that while learning of a child’s handicap can indeed be devastating, the fact that in this case the child is over 40, happily married, and successful in two jobs ought to be some consolation.

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More thoughts on werewolves …

Part of the reason werewolves don’t get a lot of love, I suspect, is that they’re harder to work with in film or television. It’s hard to go full lupine. As this rather interesting article from the Onion’s AV Club points out, dogs are not good actors, and wolves are even worse. So producers usually go for a sort of wolf-ape hybrid thing with makeup and prosthetics, which never looks very good.

More than that, though, I think that lycanthropy is, oddly, a little too mundane to catch on as the next occult craze. Werewolves are neither superior to humans, like vampires, nor inferior, like zombies. They are simply different. They have a condition. They have time-management issues. Werewolves are probably really into Spoon Theory.

Somehow, I was reminded of all this when a friend of mine Tweeted, “One great benefit of being deaf is being able to shut out the cellphone blabbermouth behind me. I just take off my processors.”

I replied, “There’s a thin line between disability and superpower, isn’t there?”

And that’s kind of the story with werewolves. It’s a superpower sometimes, and a disability at other times. Being a blonde with symmetrical and childlike features may get you out of a traffic ticket, but will probably make it harder to be taken seriously in your career. Having Asperger’s syndrome makes figuring people out harder, but fixing their computers easier. Parents have the awesome power to create life – and then become hostages to fate forever after.

Zombies are all the other drivers in a rush-hour gridlock. Zombies are the people who write comments in response to YouTube videos. Zombies are the people you see on television at those rallies, the ones you disagree with.

Vampires are your insurance company, raising your rates for an accident for which you weren’t at fault. Vampires are your late-night drunk-dialing ex. Vampires are hidden fees, the person behind you who darts into the newly opened checkout lane, that guy at the bar who refuses to believe that you really do want to drink a martini and read The Economist in peace.

Werewolves are afraid of embarrassing themselves in company. Werewolves wake up thinking, “I don’t believe I did that.” Werewolves can be great in emergencies, but daily life poses greater challenges to them. Werewolves wake up every day not knowing if they have a superpower, or a disability.

Werewolves are us.

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A year in review

Watching the seasons change on Facebook means watching endless updates about the desirability of pumpkin lattes slowly turn into collages of the year’s updates. Here is a collage of my Facebook updates from 2010:

Is this time of the year — or any time, really — a nostalgic one for you? Are you the sort who likes to look through photo albums (or scroll through old text messages) and reviews their calendar at year’s end? Or does that sort of thing bore you?

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Here‘s a good, if slightly facile, article on how to protect yourself against winter depression.

I’m not looking forward to this winter. It’s not as though normally, I’m all “W00T! Boston winter, yeah! Bring it on and keep it up through April again this year!” But generally winter is a slight annoyance, a constraint, a nuisance. This year I’m afraid, to be honest. Because as the days get darker and shorter and colder, so are my thoughts and my temper and my spine. Because last winter was when I was really, really sick, and now I’ve got that irrational, but hardly abnormal, fear that as winter descends, I’ll get sick again.

Even if I don’t, I want to be extra careful and good to myself this winter. Right now I feel scared and anxious about the approach of the cold weather. So I made a list of a few things I’m going to do in order to keep myself on track:

1. Invent lots of new vegetable & whole-grain stews, and share my best recipes with my readers, and ask for yours as well.

2. Stretch and meditate to the Hebrew prayers I have on my iPod at least once a day.

3. Write at a coffee shop at least twice a week, even if it’s really cold. There are several within a seven-minute walk. I have a brand-new 800 fill count Patagonia winter coat. I can walk seven minutes to a coffee shop.

4. Study Torah and write more about Judaism. Ideally, for money. (Yes, I know that sounds like the most anti-Semitic joke ever, but I mean it. I want to do this for my own benefit, but I really do want to start getting my religious writings published. I think I have a distinctive voice, and it’s a way of participating in my religion that is very, very meaningful to me.)

5. Take up photography. I’ve done bits and pieces of arts and crafts, but the problem with it is, then you have arts and crafts all over your home, and what do you do with them? (Especially if your artistic style is dark and gothic. It’s great if you’re a knitter and can knit scarves and booties, but you can hardly give someone a mixed-media Cornell box based on 16th-century anatomical drawings and clipped-out phrases from Poe and de Tocqueville as a christening gift.) I can’t quite grapple with the logistical problems of creative efforts that can’t be archived on a computer. Fortunately, photos can be.

6. Make physical pleasure a priority. Well, yes, Mr. Improbable gave a big cheer when I told him that resolution, but I’m not only talking about that. I mean burning incense. Taking time at night to rub lotion into my legs and feet. Getting a massage when I want one. Curling up on the sofa with a book and blasting the space heater right at myself until I feel like a human hot toddy. Taking a sauna after working out. Making time to sit and really gaze into my art books — or, for that matter, at some of the art I’ve bought or made myself. Taking hot baths with essential oils. Going to Colonial Drug and smelling the perfumes. I’m good at giving my brain pleasure — through work, books, conversation, television, blogging. I’m less good at giving my body pleasure. (I’m hardly the only one, I suspect, in our culture that is simultaneously Puritanically afraid of the body and hypersexual. I almost blushed writing the phrase “giving my body pleasure” — it seems dirty, crude to say. But I believe my body is as holy as my mind. I believe pleasure and beauty are religious values, not sins. I believe God wants me to be happy as well as good. Maybe if I act on those beliefs, I will truly feel them as well as believe them.)

7. Ramp down December, ramp up January and February. Because we all know December’s not the hard one. The first snow is fun. And there’s Christmas and New Year’s and Hanukkah and such to keep you occupied. It’s January and February, when the snow is old and dirty and half the Christmas lights have burned out on your neighbor’s house but he still won’t take them down and your social calendar looks as blank as Don Draper when faced with another person’s emotional need, that life gets hard. So start planning now for some treats for yourself in January. A girls’ or boys’ night out, a potluck, a costume party, trapeze lessons — whatever does it for you, and brings a little jolt of novelty into your life. Don’t burn your body and mind and wallet out during December and leave yourself depleted in January. Boston winters are a marathon, not a sprint!

(I originally typed that as “spring.” Paging Dr. Freud!)

So that’s my list. Probably a little heavy, because I’m dealing with stuff that not everyone else is. Of course, I’m also not dealing with winter stuff that other folks have to: fine, maybe you’re not worried about your digestive system collapsing, but I don’t have to worry about a commute or what to do on my kid’s snow days. Point is, winter’s hard. And this time I’m gearing up for it. Are you? What are you doing?

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Election Day thoughts

This is a post I wrote on Election Day 2008, and that mostly still holds true today. If the political climate has you jittery, take a deep breath and remind yourself of what will still be true tomorrow.

The world is a very narrow bridge. The main thing is not to be afraid (Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav).

I know I posted that below, in my election night etiquette post. But I wanted to revisit it on this day of narrow margins and fear.

Whoever wins tonight, nearly half the country will be very unhappy and afraid when the results are announced. Will that fear lead to spitefulness, isolationism, cynicism, vengeance, Nagelism? Or will it motivate us to continue to work for the world we’d like to see?

Right now, you’ve voted, or are on your way to, and that’s all, at this point, you can do. (If you are not voting and are eligible to do so, please get off my blog.) So I’d like to open up this post for some breathing space.

In your own personal worst-case scenario after tonight, what will still be true?

If tonight brings a political nightmare for me–

My husband and I will still love each other and support each others’ dreams and have bread and cheese and wine by candlelight every Friday night.

My dog will still smell really good and will crawl up from the foot of the bed in the mornings for snuggle time as soon as he knows I am awake.

Stephen King will continue on his streak of writing some of his best, most mature fiction to date. [I called that one well — Under the Dome is a masterpiece.]

I will still live in the only city that has ever felt like home to me.

I will continue my recently renewed commitment to working out, which has made a huge difference already in my physical and mental health. (And my new iPod is on the way, so I can pump it to “I Will Survive” and “Livin’ on a Prayer” to my racing heart’s content!) [“Workout Songs” playlist now up to 200. Recommendations gratefully received.]

Campari and soda will still be the most refreshing drink ever, even if everyone else I know finds it repellently bitter.

My book will still come out this spring. [It did.]

Theater and the visual arts will continue to expand, refresh, and delight my mind and heart and soul.

Dubliner cheese will still be the finest of all the cheeses, and readily available at many of our neighborhood stores.

My friends will still share ideas and jokes and trials and joys and everyday moments of grace or absurdity with me.

This Saturday’s Torah portion will still be the one about new beginnings and “overnight” changes that are years in the making. [That was 5769. This Saturday’s portion is the one about Jacob and Esau, reminding us that the “culture war” has always been with us.]

I will still spend Thanksgiving with my family.

Eddie Izzard will still be funny.

“Battlestar Galactica” and “Lost” will still come back in early 2009. (And season three of “Dexter” will continue to disappoint me.) [Let’s not even discuss the levels of television disappointment I was to experience in the past two years.]

People will still have social dilemmas for me to solve.

None of this means that the election is a small thing. The world is a very narrow bridge, and narrow bridges are legitimately dangerous. There’s reason to be afraid. But let’s not scare ourselves more than we have to. What will still be true for you if tonight brings your worst-case scenario?

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More on taking offense …

So, the whole taking-offense thing. Y’all kind of felt I sprung that on you out of nowhere, didn’t you? I could tell by the comments. Here’s a little more context for it, in terms of what I’ve been reading and thinking and talking with friends about:

1. The national conversation around bullying. The woman who wrote the essay I posted on Monday is a friend of mine from very long ago, and it is likely that I would have had much worse bullying-induced psychological problems than I already did had I not been friends with her. She managed to make being an outcast feel like being an outlaw. So when she writes “I think self-empowerment, for some people, is a daily struggle,” I remember when it was, for both of us.

2. The question of empowerment versus entitlement. This is a distinction I came up with last week, and that I’m writing about in a November column. Here’s the key parts:

How about, instead of feeling entitled, feeling empowered instead? Entitled people believe they deserve certain things, and if they don’t get them, they lash out, or withdraw, or complain. Empowered people believe they deserve certain things, and if they don’t get them, they do something about it.

All the world’s a stage. When an actor flubs a line in a play, his scene partner doesn’t just stand there, waiting for him to get it right, because she is entitled to get her correct cue. She jumps in and improvises, because she is empowered to do that by her skills and training. That’s what etiquette is for: not teaching us what we are entitled to get, but teaching us how we are empowered to get it.

That’s the kind of thing that when it occurs to you, it’s going to occupy your head for a while.

3. The Evelyn Evelyn controversy. Keeping this as simple as possible, “Evelyn Evelyn” is a musical act/band/character created by Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley. Evelyn Evelyn are supposedly conjoined twins (played by Amanda and Jason in a specially-constructed dress and matching wigs) with a lurid backstory. They performed at this year’s Ig Nobels, which is how I found out about all this.

Anyway, a lot of people are very upset about Evelyn Evelyn, and about Amanda’s response to them when they told her how upset they were. It’s a complicated story, and that’s as basic yet honest as I can make it; start with the linkspam and follow the trail from there, if you’re interested.

And I find that, somehow, an impossible conversation. There’s no doubt when you read the words of the people who are offended by Evelyn Evelyn that they are genuinely hurt. And Amanda is saying, in essence, “I realize what I’m doing is hurting you, and I’m going to continue doing it anyway.” You can frame the discussion in lots of ways, but on a basic human level, that is the conversation being had. (And because of the nature of the internet and Amanda Palmer’s fanbase, it is very much a conversation: this isn’t a question of an artist creating a work and a dispassionate critic analyzing it for their own audience.)

I had a conversation like that myself in the past year, a relationship-ending one, because a friend was often hurt by the things I wrote about, and I kept writing about them (although I censored myself more than I realized).


Anyway, those are some of the things that have been floating around my mind regarding the whole concept of taking offense. When people talk/write about taking offense, they usually focus on the nature of the offense. Is endorsing a religious prohibition against homosexuality a personal moral choice, or a public affront? Is Evelyn Evelyn really ableist or not? Is it rude to ask a woman if she colors her hair, Miss Conduct?

I’d like to look away from the question of the offenses themselves, and more at the process of taking offense. How can you do it in a way that leaves you feeling empowered? How do you make the call whether to take your offense public or not? What do you do when you hit a brick wall in discourse? What do you do when you are the offender?

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A hard line on self-defense and not taking offense

A friend of mine sent me a draft of the following, which I thought was so good I asked her if I could publish it here, and she sent me an edited version:

I had an exchange with a friend today about sensitivity. I get very tired of some people expecting everyone else to tread very lightly on any topic that could possibly cause offense. How am I supposed to know all of your past trauma? I certainly don’t expect others to know and circumvent mine. I don’t want people thinking they have to walk on eggshells around me. It reduces the authenticity of interaction, and I appreciate authenticity. Careful conversation between polite strangers is deadly dull.

My beloved grandmother died of Alzheimer’s (yes, Alzheimer’s does kill a person after a while). Does this mean I think Alzheimer’s jokes should be avoided by everyone because of the mere possibility that someone in the vicinity might have had a loved one die of Alzheimer’s? Even in the deepest, most violent throes of my grief, I did not react defensively about Alzheimer’s jokes. I was inconsolable, for one thing, so it’s not like my grief ever left my consciousness long enough to allow me to be painfully reminded, and, how are people to know, if they don’t already know? I refused to be that whiny attention whore who says, “Hey! My grandmother just died of Alzheimer’s! This disease is no laughing matter!”

I sometimes feel alienated and misunderstood when people assume that, like them, I am religious. I don’t like it, but what am I going to do? Assault them for assuming that I am like everyone else they know?

I also get peeved when people ask me how many children I have, and then criticize my decision to be child-free-by-choice, asserting that my life is empty and meaningless, and that I have missed the point of everything. However, most women have had children by my age. Either I am in the mood to deliver my standard lecture, or I am not. It really doesn’t matter either way. There are many other things that bother, offend, bore and upset me. Perhaps I guess I should keep cards with me to hand out at work and at bars so everyone knows what not to bring up around me, because I have no skin.

Here’s what I’ve decided after all these years:

If I give other people the power to unhinge my self-esteem and inner well-being with their remarks, that is my problem.

I recognize that there are traumatic circumstances which cause heightened sensitivity to remarks made by others, and there are certainly some traumatic events that are beyond the scope of this post. Before you think I am talking about those things, I am not. Within the range to which this post logically applies, however, I want to come out on strongly on the side of self-empowerment. I think part of the healing process is doing the work to empower yourself, to stand with yourself, and not grant others the authority to make you feel bad. If you are truly a champion for anything, you must be a champion for yourself. Don’t put the way you feel about your choices or your history in someone else’s hands.

Most people cannot spring out of bed and create a permanent change in their perceptions by proclaiming, “From this day forward I shall be 100% impervious to everything everyone else says to me EVER.” Personally, I often enjoy being irritated, because it gives me fodder for the complaining I do for the amusement of those who appreciate me. I think self-empowerment, for some people, is a daily struggle. So be it. I don’t think it makes life more enjoyable or less stressful for anyone when we all have to be so intensely careful around each other. My guess is, we really don’t have get so hung up on what other people are talking about, unless we want to, and that, my friends, may be the crux of the issue.

Part of the impetus for my friend’s writing was a post from The Rotund that I had Tweeted, about how to be a sensitive dieter at work. I think we’re looking at it from different sides; I recently got a question from a nutrition-conscious office worker who wanted to know how not to be “that person on a diet,” and The Rotund’s advice was a good answer to that.

But I’ve been trying to tease apart the issue of offense and when it is taken, and when it is not, for some time now. I’ll put my thoughts, which are much more inchoate than the above, up later in the week. In the meantime, what do you think of my friend’s approach?

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Staying sane on the internets

Is it me, or are the internets wearing a lot of people out these days? It seems that a number of blogs are shutting down, and I’ve been feeling a lot of angst among my Facebook set as well. Those of us who have computer-centric jobs can feel continuously bombarded with upsetting news, most of which we can’t do anything about. (I don’t know which I find more depressing, really: the opinions of my FB friends whom I disagree with politically, or the constant links to an ongoing litany of outrages shared by those on my side.) All of which led me to post this a few weeks ago on my Facebook page:

A crazy idea: for every one thing you read on the internet that makes you sad or angry, commit one act of love. Sign a petition. Post a funny video to a friend’s wall. E-mail the manager of your local Starbucks and tell them about the excellent service you got. Introduce two people whom you know would enjoy each other. Ask for other people to share their stories on your blog.

I’ve been practicing this without being consciously aware of it for a few weeks now, and it has, I feel, made a huge difference to my head and heart and soul. Try it.

I’ve been keeping it up since then, and it’s continued to work. And then yesterday, I was catching up on some back issues of New Scientist, and read an article about happiness by Dan Jones. Much of what he said I was already familiar with, but I learned about Barbara Frederickson’s “broaden & build” theory of positive emotions for the first time. According to this theory, positive emotions — joy, affection, curiosity, playfulness — lead to a broadening of our ability to imagine different ways of thinking and acting. And the actions that these emotions prompt us to take — expressing kindness to others, getting physical exercise, exploring the environment, learning experientially or through books or dialogue — build long-term health, social, and cognitive benefits.

I found Dr. Frederickson’s link between immediate good feeling and long-term rewards intriguing, because in the past couple of weeks since I’ve been trying my little “use the internet for good instead of evil” routine, I genuinely have felt better — not just cheerier, but more satisfied with life and my place in it, and even more optimistic about human nature.

(Not, of course, so optimistic as to have lost my basic faith in Murphy’s Law. I know this advice is likely to be read and followed most enthusiastically by exactly the sort of person who shouldn’t: the sort who finds LOLcats to be the very apotheosis of internet humor; who considers sending a chronically ill friend a link to a new alternative-medicine treatment a good deed; who assumes that everyone’s spiritual life, and therefore taste in inspirational quotes or art, is more or less identical; who considers availability and heterosexuality the only qualifications required to be a candidate for matchmaking. But what can I do? I seek to empower, and this at times means empowering the clueless as well.)

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Being right versus being effective

Mr. Improbable sent me a link to this New York Times article about getting rural Kansans to embrace cleaner energy. Most of the people written about in the article don’t accept the reality of global climate change, so it was initially believed that getting them on the conservation bandwagon would be difficult — until clean-energy group “ran an experiment to see if by focusing on thrift, patriotism, spiritual conviction and economic prosperity, it could rally residents of six Kansas towns to take meaningful steps to conserve energy and consider renewable fuels.”

And it worked. Because it didn’t try to change people’s beliefs, or their values, or their identity. Rather, it asked them to live up to the values they already embraced.

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Quote of the day

“You can be a victor without having victims.”

–Fortune cookie I shared with a friend Sunday night.

I love that so much. It’s a huge part of the whole Miss Conduct ethos. Just because you’re a winner doesn’t make me a loser. “Lift as you climb.” It’s why I love Esther, why I love Trixie from “Deadwood.”

Share the win.

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More thoughts on power and unkindness

Finally following up on some of your excellent comments in response to my post “The powerless are rude.” Sorry I didn’t get to it sooner — I was powerless to do so. Get it?

First off, thank you all for reading my post in the spirit in which it was intended. I certainly never meant to say that those in or with power cannot be rude. I was saying their rudeness comes from a different place, and is likely to express itself in less crude ways. While the store clerk rings up their purchase, the powerful talk on their cell phones — in muted voices, turned away from the less-than-human clerk who cannot be allowed to eavesdrop. The powerless talk louder and look at the clerk, wanting them to be the audience to the Reality Show of My Life.

Nor did I mean to sound as though I were bashing on the underclass — if anything, that post was meant to be a plea for sympathy and tolerance for those whose rudeness comes from a sense of being unheard, unacknowledged, disrespected, either momentarily or over the course of a lifetime. To say: You know what? Try listening to the uncouth people. The coarse people. The ones who don’t dress up their failures in the smooth coat of civility.

Using foul language helps people endure pain
. It’s science, yo.

Also, of course, it’s not as though the world were broken down into “the powerful” and “the powerless.” Most of us are advantaged in some ways and disadvantaged in others. And in certain situations, both parties can feel powerless, as Julian Lander pointed out:

But I also want to respond to Clare’s comment about entitlement and condescension encountered by a clerk. In that situation, such as in a store, I think that the clerk is the powerful one: it the clerk who makes it possible or impossible for the customer to complete the transaction, purchase the desired item, and leave with it. For someone who is used to being able to do things like that him- or herself, that can be enormously frustrating, particularly because the customer may perceive him- or herself as being able to complete the transaction just as well as the clerk.

I see this a lot at the drugstore pharmacy. Almost every time I go to get a scrip filled, there is someone arguing with a pharmacist/clerk about whether or not a scrip was called in, how much they have to pay, and so on. Clearly the customer feels powerless and frustrated: you are withholding my medicine! But so does the pharmacist, who is trapped by insurance regulations and dependent on information from doctors.

geekgirl99 made point that I liked:

I think this is a really interesting post. I don’t think this is all there is to it, though. I do think that those who aren’t given enough space start to push back. But at the same time, I think that demanding what you deserve has to be taught, and it is more likely to be taught to the rich than to the poor. I think, for example, that a rich person is more likely to grill a doctor about a diagnosis and be really pushy about it than a poor person.

Yes. People who are socialized to be invisible do, on many occasions, obey that socialization. This is why I can’t think of “entitled” as necessarily being a bad word. You should feel entitled to ask your doctor all the questions you have. You should feel entitled to your bodily privacy and autonomy. You should feel entitled to being treated with dignity. The history of social movements is, in essence, people saying, “We are entitled.” Entitled to an eight-hour workday, to the vote, to sit at a lunch counter, to get married to the person they love. Which is probably why so many social-justice movements wind up being led by the middle class.

Finally, I wanted to address Rubiatonta‘s comment:

Here’s a challenge (and believe me, I know I’m asking a lot here) for all of us to whom civility matters. When someone is being rude, envision them surrounded by love — your love. Don’t glare, or mutter, or react in any way. They’ll notice that they’re not getting the reaction they expected. It will make them stop and wonder. And if enough of us could do this, it would make a real difference.

That’s the compassion meditation, isn’t it, Rubiatonta? The language doesn’t resonate with me, but the general concept does. When people are rude to us, we feel stripped of our power. And our first instinct might be to grab that power back by being rude in return. But of course, the truly powerful move is to not react — or to react with compassion, humor, or a common-sense solution. Good manners does not mean being a doormat. It does mean being grounded enough that you can choose to act, rather than react. It means, to me — feeling powerful.

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I do not get people

My column about crying toddlers in restaurants, and polyamory, got virtually no angry response. No defensive or entitled parents, no militantly childfree gourmands, no traditionalists convinced I am trying to destroy family values by suggesting a father learn to accept his daughter, no humorless polyamorists upset that I suggested they are all open-source geeks.

I am, however, still getting angry letters from people who insist that their dogs do too understand English. And who, in most cases, write with a lack of facility that suggests they believe their own deficiencies with the language must be proof of their pets’ compensatory abilities.

I will never understand people.

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