That time of year again–fortunately come and gone. So many painfully unfamiliar melismatic versions of otherwise painfully familiar carols everywhere you shop, shop, shopped–driven to a corresponding emotionally heightened pitch by the most obdurate holiday logic, “The more you buy the more yule save” and show you care for those you love, apparently. Yes! God rest your weary zeal, except that’s not allowed: between tracks and internet ads, perennial encouragement sprang sprightly as the whip’s lash, “It’s better to give than to receive!” It was a time for generosity, not doubt or thrift, and reckless spending is like unconditional love made real.
Sssssssh! If you listen, closely, I’m sure you can almost hear it still. And I’m sorry.
But it was also that time of year given to thinking we’re thinking of others’ needs; a time we’ve mostly suddenly collectively acknowledged there are others, who’re in need, and give, similarly indiscriminately, whatever we can afford. That usually consists of things we no longer want or need, of course. When we otherwise might simply throw such things away, we treat ourselves to feeling we’ve addressed something we generally ignore.
It’s the thought that counts, you know.
With either gesture, many people show they’ve little grasp of what they’re saying or hearing means, so this holiday season, I lavished particular attention on those habitually overlooked unfortunates who consistently abuse our language. Almost a little like Lent, except instead of sacrificing an indulgence that would be sorely missed, one foregoes all excuses normally used to stay our alienating those who aren’t just ‘kind of’ jerks but pretty self-congratulatory–if not completely entitled–ones. That meant it was for a good cause! Or two. Or I’ve just done myself a huge favor–it’s not like they’re mutually exclusive. In any case, I’m yet no longer making reservations for the sake of those who’ve casually offended me, without “meaning to” especially. The key there is ‘casually,’ so: within the realm of common interactions. Realizing that I’m never the only one negatively affected, I’ve decided that certain courtesies are, in such instance, a disservice to the cause. A dear friend’s father always told us politeness was a worthy last stand, but even as a child I knew that was less a thing he believed in than any alternative to an alternative he didn’t have.
But this stance, it’s not just “because jerks“. There’s my love for the meanings–plural–of words and the expressive quality of our language. This is not an argument for proper English; it’s an argument against the insidious loss of accepted definitions, a contraction of the standard allowance, because we’re allowing algorithm-produced search results to reduce our wordstock and dictate convention. As a child, I took my parents’ paperback American Heritage dictionary. It was their Scrabble dictionary, and tattered even at the time, but it offered so much more, in depth and scope, than those Merriam-Websters so ubiquitous through school. I have it, still, and writing about it, now, enables intensely vivid flashbacks to sunny afternoons on my bed and its even then thoroughly discolored pages–not yellowed, but almost rust-orange, russet, and paper bag brown. Pre-acid-free, already becoming brittle, its spine taped, the tape deteriorating. My tiny, fine child’s hands; how little and perfect my nails where; the small print; the thickness of that book. Its smell. Above all, the feelings of fascination and pleasure, at finding words could mean more than the prosaic, reliable things familiar to our household. (Unless Mom felt particularly moved to tell me how “infuriating” my “audacity” was, or something that sounded similarly wonderful. Given which, “bold” and “nerve” are never nearly so delicious.)
Disclaimer: I give even oft-repeated daily occurrences as much thought as, well, a thing others wouldn’t undertake without some pause, and have a near-predatory sense of focus I do my best to muffle as it is. If you’re someone who enjoys a perhaps enviable ability to traipse, untroubled by others’ actions, through life, and tune things out, my rather curious perspective may not be of much worth to you. There is a joie de vivre that permits no inattentiveness, as, exaltant or not, impressions come and go avec toute la conscience. So, for instance, after I’ve carefully re-phrased a request that’s been ignored, only to be told I’m not being nice, I take that as an invitation to explore the full extent of my accuser’s unfamiliarity with their word choice. Others are quick to dub this ‘passive aggression’ while overlooking the fact the ‘victim’ has disregarded a plain request multiple times, while I, already entangled in what should have been a straight-forward exchange, have decided to make the most of things, from my perspective.
So I am already at odds with our culture, regardless of what I do, because of how I am, and because I prefer both that manner and verb, in life, more than anything I’ve ever done or could, and even more than time. Except perhaps in the historical sense… because it was not always so. If I am ever-present, I am also very, very aware of what the present once was.
I’ve always, always enjoyed the wry dialogue, barbed rapport and out-spoken insights so often found in older films like All About Eve, but even the odd moment in much less star-studded stuff, where a waitress behind a counter, offended by some customer’s out-of-line off-handed remark, can dump coffee on him without getting canned (or sued) is pretty damn endearing. When her boss understands she wouldn’t do so were it not deserved? Yeah, those days are over; it’s a detail that’s stuck with me. Having shown such things to friends, it’s usually–not just given the sad state of contemporary Hollywood–a revelation. A general cultural longing for just this sort of liberty probably explains the great deal of inferior snark so many online dailies are known for….
So why do we keep holding our tongues?
Because it’s difficult to struggle against a precedent, even a dysfunctional one. At least I grew-up hearing wide-spread reference to “assertiveness training”, but no such thing exists in today’s “non-confrontational” environment. We don’t address things, we swallow pills. There is significant cultural conditioning, since childhood, from ‘the golden rule’ to Luke 6:29 (or Matthew 5:39), to meet offense graciously. Offense takes this for granted; while I find it acutely unpleasant, et tu? By such virtues, we make things easier for assholes while ensuring things get worse for ourselves, and others.
There is such a thing as a justified reaction, and when we experience a particularly unpleasant one, it’s better to call someone who has been inconsiderate or oblivious out than internalize our frustration. Rather than trying to make ourselves politely overlook an inconvenient or painful snub, rather than stifling unhappiness for others’ sakes, why not say “hey, wait-a-minute, buster”?
The only thing I can see that’s effectively preserved by our doing otherwise is self-image. Because what purpose, politeness, where it condones uncivil behavior? What good comes of turning the other cheek with someone who’ll go on to casually offend one person after the next? Seriously. When confronted by jerks, the last thing we want is to be perceived as one, ok, but to what end?
In 1976 anthropologist Jane M. Murphy found that an isolated group of Yupik-speaking Inuits near the Bering Strait had a term (kunlangeta) they used to describe “a man who … repeatedly lies and cheats and steals things and … takes sexual advantage of many women—someone who does not pay attention to reprimands and who is always being brought to the elders for punishment.” When Murphy asked an Inuit what the group would typically do with a kunlangeta, they replied, “Somebody would have pushed him off the ice when nobody else was looking.”
That is a polite gesture, undertaken discretely, that duly serves a greater good. What we do is coddle bastards, and we should reconsider that approach. They’re clueless, at best; wildly successful, otherwise. But next time you start to console yourself over some goldbrick’s getting the best of you or worse, do us all a favor: use your horn, open your mouth–anything–to make them aware they’ve done something wrong. Give the gift that keeps on giving year-long: quit quietly pandering to jerks, please.
Meanings, thoughts, actions, sayings. In addition to the moral conditioning, there’s a cultural narrative that feeds us a sort of common knowledge we’d do well to question: nice = weak; the worthy are rewarded; the cream will rise; justice will be served; the truth endures; we live in a meritocracy; everyone’s out to screw somebody. These need to be reconsidered, because they are all lies. The worst of this narrative is actually a kind of background noise that leaves us feeling anxious, insignificant, and incapable of enacting change as individuals. Again, realizing we have a certain authority to casually correct a slight would get us back in the practice of not needing to feel validated, or relying upon others to describe our problems, but doing something about them. Reading an op-ed piece on The two Americas, or one of Der Spiegel’s many excellent exposés and “sharing” to inform your facebook friends only contributes to that background noise. Like so many cast-off things given to the ‘underprivileged’ in anticipation of our annual Christmas glut, it doesn’t address the underlying concern at all. We beat the rug, stir-up some dust, and drop it right back down in it’s original place, leaving all that was under it under it again.
Perhaps you’d like a less idealistic, specific demonstration? Grab a drink.
I’ll be blue; “ericaonelove” can be grey. (Dear future, please do not do this to me.)
Hi. Can you please reject my counteroffer? Or if you’d like to buy it, counter for $90 & I’ll accept. Either way thanks & happy holidays!
A few hours later, I’d do $80. Just thinking it’s a bit steep for vintage is all 🙂
80 was their original offer. Seeing her note the next morning, I wrote I’d rather get it tailored than go that low, sorry, because it’s in excellent condition, rare & gorgeous. So please will you reject the offer? Thanks.
Not 10 minutes later, Why do you need me to reject? Just curious. I’ve never been asked that & I never ask my buyers that.
Another 10 minutes and still un-rejected, a day after I’d originally asked, I dashed off the following, but checked again before I hit “send”. So I can edit the listing. With a pending offer, the seller’s ability to do so is restricted. I don’t understand why you haven’t yet, but if you could please now, thanks? I wanted to get to work on it, and kind of expected to be able to do that before now.
Which was not well received. C’est tant pis!
Bill Murray doesn’t believe in catching flies; I hate flies, but I’ve grown-up in the South. The dirty South. Where flies and honey are abundant and it’s understood that honey isn’t what you think it is, bless your heart. What I’d said wasn’t sugar-coated, but it was carefully phrased and specifically meant to address my request, which had gone ignored while the little miss continued to require my attention for some time. If saying “I don’t understand why you haven’t yet” is too unkind, it’s indicative of a larger social problem, and one worth offending.
I asked the love of my life for his take, because I recognise he’s a much nicer person than I–far less prickly and much more considerate. I don’t think I quite suffer from the Allie Brosh identity syndrome, but I don’t want to fall under the spell of Dunning–Kruger, either. I did want to discourage onelove’s persistent discourtesy.
“The ‘I don’t understand why you haven’t yet’ seems accusatory.”
” ‘Accusatory’? Fuck that! When I’m talking about something I asked her to do yesterday, which, though she’s responded a couple times, she hasn’t done. Yes, I am NOT not acknowledging her not doing something, sure. She’s written me back multiple times.”
“Of course, but to them, that’s what they’re going to–”
“Forgive me, but is that ‘risk’ more valuable than how un-cooperative she’s being?”
“Thank you, because there-in’s a greater good.”
Again. I believe this thing, that others might be inclined to overlook, is connected to a larger social problem. Social problems, in fact, and our inclination to slap bandaids over them and pat each-others’ backs, perhaps?
You’re not that nice of a person really. Wow, I actually already did. Thanks?
And… confirmed. Finally.
At which point I could have left off. There was no need for any additional hand-holding to finally free myself from her grip; the goal had been accomplished. So… I did revise the item description before casting out a feeler, because I’d just been called “not nice” and not just not but “really”. You hadn’t according to Ebay before I sent that letter, and I did check, but thanks for choosing to insult someone rather than value their time.
I work on my other listings. 20 minutes later, I receive Sorry, you really didn’t respond that well. Have a good day & thanks for your time 🙂
Sigh. Not responding well might have been “Just curious, why the fuck haven’t you done it yet?” But that’s exactly where catching flies comes in. When you want something from someone, you are beholden to them. The non-apology and clanging thanks, somehow resonant within that suction of empty meaning behind two of the most over-used token phrases of all time…
Thank you for blaming me for your actions, and for judging me, but no worries. I’ve read about this kind of thing. Namaste 😀
After which, her true colors bled through. One love!
For those of you who would accuse me of pettiness here, I remind you that these people, their insincerity and discourtesy, do no one any favors. They illegal lane change, failing to consider the needs of other drivers. They have opinions and clammer to be heard, which comprise a target market. Their apparent success in the world provides an example to others, others who go on to overlook people of no importance to them. They vote. They approve or fail to approve budgets.
We’re not helpless in the face of larger problems, we can discourage things right now, from where we sit–or at least leave someone rather more deserving much more uncomfortable. For once. Because once someone can give you a non-apology while feeling they’re doing The Right Thing (insert sparkle font) no-hard-feelings 🙂 after accusing you of being rude when you’ve had to restate and explain an earlier request they unnecessarily dug their heels in about meeting, what is at stake? My parents used to complain I liked to argue. I don’t like to argue, but I really don’t like people perpetuating things that, upon reflection, are token if not completely untrue.
A quick background on onelove’s online silhouette. She had several auction listings, many of which were for mass produced shit like lululemon and things with “Couture” in the label that clearly weren’t. Most of her stuff was priced above the item she wasn’t that interested in, despite being made post-global production crisis to non-existent quality standards, unlike my vintage piece.
So. She’s been peddling inferior goods at inflated prices, with no appreciation for design or craft, only an eye for brand and lifestyle appeal. Hey, that’s not related to any larger problems, is it?
I will certainly argue at length to correctly define a thing, and that played into this, too, as the woman was clearly using words that had little meaning to her. It’s almost like sarcasm, except much more shallow yet deeply disingenuous, too. Somehow.
So. These things are important to me. Short of buying my way in to political office, it’s the most efficacious change I can attempt. In much the same way an honest interest in a passing person can change their countenance entirely, I can also not condone some dirtbag’s advance. You can keep telling yourself to pick your battles, and losing; you have every right to that.
“These days, it takes a cheap carnival witch to make folk recognize a real unicorn. You’d do much better to stay with me and be false, for in this whole world only the Red Bull will know you when he sees you.”