Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Swiss Grasshopper

This blog title is not a "hamster sangria" - something I've misheard, and badly at that. It comes from what I think is a kung fu quote, "you have much to learn, young grasshopper" and my attempt to be civil, if not neutral like Switzerland, in matters of personality conflicts. Yet I am a mere babe in the woods. Or rather a grasshopper in the Alps, and I have much to learn.

The inspiration for this post is that Suz had an online question and answer session today which she'd billed as a writing workshop. She was unfailingly polite to everyone, and gave every question serious consideration, even the rude ones, even the incoherent ones, even the shy ones. I find the occasional person who posts to her board (otherwise referenced as my online book club) to be grating and hard on my nerves. Mostly I enjoy spending time there. Yet some days, and some people are worse than others. Some new posters just start awkwardly, but sort themselves out and make an attempt to be friendly and open to new ideas. Some people are deliberately exclusionary. Some people start at insulting and go down hill from there. These people try my patience. I can only stand back with awe and hope to be as gracious as Suz when I grow up.

This desire to be civil, gracious, and fair to all comers, even if it is a pipe dream, derives from having had some memorable spans of social awkwardness in my own life, with brief periods of being part of the "in" crowd. I didn't like being excluded or ignored, especially when I didn't know why, so I make it a point not to exclude people. I make an effort to see every side of a situation before making a judgment about a person whom I don't take to right away if it looks like we will be repeatedly occupying the same space. I like to give people more than one shot, let their personality settle in to the atmosphere, before writing them off as someone to exclude. (There are times when I have to make exceptions to this non-exclusionary policy and I always agonize over it.)

I also try to analyze precisely what it is about a person that bothers me. By deferring judgment and analyzing what bugs me and what doesn't, I find that I'm perfectly able to be friends with people who detest each other. (Persons A and B don't like each other, but A likes me and I like A, and B likes me and I like B. I try very hard not to discuss A or B with the other, or if I do, keep things positive or neutral.) I have one friend who likened friendships to a balance sheet - you'll put up with the stuff you find pesky if the reasons you like the person outweigh the peskiness - and she's not wrong. What one person might find objectionable in the other just might not bother me at all, or not enough to care about. This is important to me because I don't like excluding people, having spent time being excluded and not knowing why, and because sometimes those people everyone else hates are really entertaining.

If I find that what bothers me is something that also bothers other people, is easily fixed, and is causing the offender some frustration, I try to politely tell them what to fix and maybe how. (I try to be wise about this and not assist someone who has preemptively stated that all other opinions are unwelcome.) I liken it to telling someone they have food schmutz on their teeth after lunch. Better to find out now and effect a simple fix than have the VP so fixated on your mouth during your post lunch presentation that the VP does not hear you. Or have the five next people at a party try to ignore it too. (My brother will occasionally tuck TP in the back of his pants just to see how long it takes someone to tell him. His ego is stronger than mine.)

I've found that my ability and willingness to see all sorts of viewpoints this leads me to a life of indecision. Prioritizing is a skill I only learned recently and it's still wavering between "conscious incorrect" and "conscious correct" on the habit forming scale. I often find it hard to prioritize/judge one perspective over another which is strange because I can be really judgmental. I can also be talked into changing my mind if new ideas come to light.

And yet, some people just make me cranky. I realize there's nothing I can do about it but change how I react to them. But that usually comes after the bitch analysis session, which I try not to let get out of hand and snowball into a hate-fest. I have a long way to go before I can just be gracious right off the bat.

This stuff initially fit into my blog concept, but not so much now. I think it's funny in a self depreciating, life lessons learned kind of way, so here 'tis anyway.

I had social problems and I had to be instructed on some basic, basic stuff:
  • Like when someone passes you in the hallway and asks "What's up?" the only answers are "Fine", "Go Team", or "School sucks, dude." That the questioner is really not interested in exactly what all is going on with me and does not want to be held hostage by my long winded answer was a rude shock to me. Naturally, once some kind/brave soul clued me in, it was obvious and I could see that behavior pattern repeated everywhere.

  • Don't read a newspaper in a small classroom while the professor, or anyone for that matter, is addressing the group. (It turns out I was not "Real Genius" reincarnated and B students don't get to be eccentric.) Yes, I had to be told this.

  • Having a point or theme to what I'm saying helps people not strangle me. Not everyone, meaning anyone who isn't my mom, dad, or grandma, will listen to me ramble on and on and on. Although I appreciate that you all do to some degree, I won't quiz you on the contents here. I use the blog to practice this skill. I'm betting better about sticking to a topic, but the verbosity is still egregious.

  • When your boss asks for something specifically? Do that, and do it NOW, don't "get to it" later.

  • Lastly, and ironically, "Don't bury the lead". Think more about what your audience wants to know than what you want to tell them. Get to the point first, add supporting details later, especially in work related conversations and email. I found and still find this hard because I have to write everything out first, then go back and figure out what my point is and what I've said to support it. If I try to write the summary first, I'm usually wrong.

There are more lessons, but a lot of it falls into the "I don't know why that train wreck happened" category. Some things I get by myself; some things I don't get unless someone tells me. Please let me know I'm not alone in having to have some simple things explained! Brains are weird things. Somehow despite all the idiocy I unveiled above, I always knew, without any help at all, that wearing fantastic underwear gives one a happy start to the day.


MarciaBC said...

Oh, Erika. I was having the exact same problem with the Q&As yesterday.

I don't get some of these people who think someone died and made them Elvis.


Anonymous said...

I will not think mean thoughts
I will not think mean thoughts
I will not think mean thoughts
dang this is hard
I will not think mean thoughts

y'know, normally I have tons of empathy for the underdog or those who are well meaning but social accident prone. However, when those prone to gaffes strike me as less than well meaning, be it passive aggressive or self important.... it is much harder to be adult about it and not wish them into the cornfield. Not slammed into the cornfield mind you, just far far away from internet access.


janet w said...

I so agree with the underwear comment! Great underwear = great day, no question and as someone who has MOOG somethin' to work with MOOG again, it can be a great challenge to find the fit and the fashionable all in one tidy package!

Where was I? Well "officiousness" often quickly morphs into oafishness and that I cannot abide. Your tendency and talent to be Switzerland, as I have so often expressed, drives me bonkers and yet for people I like, I willingly grant them at least 3 screw-ups: for others, none zero nudinks and for others, heck, an open chequebook of screw-up minutes (OK, mixed metaphor there).

I am hoping the contretemps of yesterday on our gathering hole will be solved by there not being enough hours in the day to do that on a regular basis :)

kerrit said...

You are so good, my dear. After less than one half hour on the board, I could no longer stand to read either questions or answers, nor even look at certain names, so I bailed. I've peeked at the board a time or three today, but I think I'll just wait until several pages scroll by and then check again. Sigh. And I consider myself very tolerant. Heck, there are days when I hang around a message board on IMDB, and THAT takes a LOT of patience and tolerance. LOL!

They say YMMV : Yesterday my mileage must have really been off the meter... ;)

Alaskan Hellcat said...

Wow! So wonderfully, beautifully put. I found myself "overposting yesterday" in a strange attempt to smooth everything over.

Like Quiche, I, too, tend to give people the benefit of the doubt, but there are a couple things that really make for a hellcat...(yes, another list!):
a) Being a Mean Girl
b) Self-righteousness
c) Not being able to apologize, or apologizing but not really mean it.

so where, oh where do we go from here??? I guess I am off to buy a new pair of undies!!

Andrea said...

Oh My Gosh! I want this written down...this date carved in stone! for the first time EVAH I am more tolerant than the crazyotter!!! ROFLOL!

I actually had to be told (by a number of people mind you) that someone was going overboard and being obnoxious. I thought the author touted this as a "workshop" which to me implied give and take and discussion among participants.

In reality for those of us who have been there longer, we know these are mainly Q&A sessions, but newbies can't be expected to know that. And it was never really suggested or delineated anywhere that the posts should be Q's to the authors then left alone.

Interestingly enough I think the person who drives you all most bonkers attempted (in a very overbearing manner I grant you) to learn the rules of this exercise, but few could get past her tone and explain the "etiquette of a Q&A day."

I am not in any way chastising you or anyone but I had to laugh because this person didn't bother me in the least...however I have yet to be posted to by this person so it's easy to stand on the sidelines and say "no foul!"

On a side note, I've learned that tone on a BB is what we make of it, and while many of her comments are critical and insulting, I just read them and thought she had a really BAD sense of humor! There are others on the board who do this as well...or have NO sense of humor and posting to them and understanding them is beyond my capabilities.

Now that I'm done rambling, I'll leave with the note that the VAST majority of this person's posts are red to me since I learned I wasn't intereted in reading tomes, I shouldn't open her posts :)

Mirmalade said...

Thank you, darling Erika, for saying so eloquently what I was thinking. I almost had to physically stop my hands from typing "JUST SHUT UP, ALREADY" more than one time!!!


CrankyOtter said...

So that post wasn't really cryptic and "swiss" then, was it? This isn't either. I'm going to roast in the special hell for this, I just know it.

First, to Andrea, I do agree with you on the workshop thing. Suz did bill it as a workshop, not just a Q&A. I didn't quite know what to expect there and I rather thought there would be more back and forth discussion. But a certain poster had a tone - insulting, condescending and preemptively judgmental - that so set my teeth on edge I was channeling the coach from Beavis and Butthead - "If you don't shut up NOW, I will physically kill you." And fail to follow through. I opened most of her posts to change the color, saw they were all thesis length and off putting and started skimming and skipping them. It felt like no one else could get a word in edgewise rather than a roundtable discussion.

This poster hasn't yet learned that sometimes you have to give other people a turn to speak. Teresa and I were on the same page with trying to sneak in there to mitigate the unpleasantness we perceived. Maybe no one else wanted to speak and it's not her fault. I do think more could have been done to facilitate it as different than a typical Q&A, but I don't know how within the board venue.

I know I'm the last person to decry writing too much text to get a tiny point across. But maybe, just once, could she have just said thank you and let it go without a follow up tome? Then to complain about having too many posts to save? WTF? And whose fault is that?

So some of this post was me trying to work out some way of politely pointing out that she's insulting someone new with every post and that thinking about audience might be a good idea if she wants to be a writer. Mentioning that she's a rocket scientist makes me think she lacks some social skills involving tact. (The best party I go to is thrown by a rocket scientist and a lawyer. There are plenty of tact free, but entertaining, people there.) But her tone of "hey, My way is the best way to do XYZ, you should learn my way" made me think it would be like teaching a pig to sing - a waste of my time and an annoyance to her. So I haven't said anything yet.

And I do appreciate the nice rally to my defense. "Hey, Elvis? I *did* read that. Which is why I asked a question that wasn't answered in it. But you keep asking questions she's now answered four times. Maybe if you stop typing for a second to read and reflect, you might see that."

Our collective mileage varied from "didn't notice, mostly because I stopped paying attention there" to "she drove me so crazy I had to go away". I also made a word doc with my favorite selections. There was some extremely selective editing involved.

Ok. Let's call that over. I will not think mean thoughts. I will not think mean thoughts. I really like my new bras.