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
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.