Saturday, March 17, 2012

No, you shouldn't say that even if you are one of those.

I find myself cringing more often while at the park.  I knew this day was inevitable.  I knew a long long time ago that one day the language coming out of young people's mouths was going to make me groan uncomfortably, roll my eyes, and take a big sigh.  This will happen to all of us, as it happened to my mother, my mother's mother, and my mother's mother's mother.  The only memory I have of my maternal maternal great grandmother while she was alive was going to see her and being told that I was, under no circumstances to say, "Golly" "Ge" "Gosh" "Holy Cow" or "Darn" or any other similar words or sounds because those were just short for swears.  That is when I knew.  I knew this would happen.  Even now the unmentionables of my mother's generation, "Damn it", "Jesus Christ", "Oh my God", "I got screwed over" and various other things I wasn't supposed to say, have been normalized to the point of being pretty tame.  I'm not going to mention the unmentionables of my generation because they are - well - unmentionable.

Oddly, derogatory words referring to groups of people tend to normalize backward and seldom are entirely reclaimed.  Many of the terms that were once preferred (at least by the dominant class) are now considered extremely rude at best and a palpable facet of oppression at worst.  I'm not qualified to go into the linguistics of these terms, but it's pretty clear that using such words is rude and if you've been living under a rock long enough to not understand which words are incredibly insulting, you should only have to be told once.  It is simple as that.

Also, it doesn't matter how much YOU don't understand why a word or phrase used to describe someone is rude or how many other people (even if they are part of that group) are not offended - it is not your place to label and identify someone else.  They have the right to self-identify.  This isn't that difficult a concept.  You don't need to study various sects, various-isms, social psychology, history, political science or comparative religion to get that - and if you DO study all those things, whatever you do don't say, "Actually since you are from blah-de-blah-de-blah region or blah blah and since the who-its settled in blah-de-blah-de-blah in the long long ago in the before time of lala, and I noticed that you put your what's-it to the left instead of the right when doing your thingy....well, TECHNICALLY you're actually a duck."  Just look confused and say, "There is another group called the ducks, have you ever heard of them?" but only if you really have to.

So, simple - right?

For example:

If you refer to someone as a "Laplander" and her eyes get all wide, she tenses up and she says, "I am Sami"...just don't call that person a Laplander again. 

This isn't rocket-science.

The scheme of self-identification gets a bit tricky though with terms that are offensive to, well, almost everyone in the universe but are being used or reclaimed by those they refer to.  This is a great example that isn't remotely work-safe:

Now, I shared that video with all my friends.  I think it is an absolutely awesome video.  What I didn't do was play it for my children, however peppy and danceable the tune was.  Why?  Because my children are very young and are just learning to speak.  They have no concept of social context and appropriateness of word use.  To teach them incendiary charged words with painful levels of meaning and a sordid history of shame, abuse and oppression and allow them to use it without the capacity to remotely understand this, isn't fair to them.

So this is a request.  If you want to call yourself an n-word, an f-word, a c-word, an r-word, a b-word or anything else you wouldn't want a random person calling you, could you refrain from doing so loudly and repeatedly in a park full of small children?  That would be spiffy.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

No, you can't charge admission to church

Of course, nobody yet (that I know of) has charged to go to morning services, however I had heard that some churches require filling out a pledge card before becoming members and charge for various concerts or fundraising events.


It just doesn't sit right.

This is true for other organizations too.  Any group who has the goal of being inclusive, should, well, be inclusive.  But, how do we do that?

Should nobody pay?  Where is the money for refurbishing the organ going to come from?  How will the heating bill be paid!?  How will light bulbs be changed?!?

If you are an inclusive organization, certainly the goal is to treat everyone the same, regardless of their ability to pay or how much money they have actually ponied up.  To this end, the amount of said ponied money should be generally anonymous - no plaques for large donors, no buildings named after the benefactors, and no special treatment for the family of Mr. and Mrs. Philenthropsis.  Let Mr. and Mrs. Philenthropsis donate to hospitals, private colleges or the local little league team if they want their name misspelled horribly in etched Times New Roman, silk-screened Helvetica, or Comic Sans applique. 

If you are an inclusive organization, certainly the goal is that nobody is left out, right?  So, should there be no ticketed events?  Should everything be free?  What about the money spent on the spaghetti and smelt dinner, the Good News Happy Fun Time band, and the character creating camping excursion - how do those events happen without charging a fee?

If you aren't thinking too clearly, you might think that the solution to this problem is to provide low-income scholarships or put aside a few tickets for the needy, so that they can come to you and mean apply for them.  What's a little pride swallowing between friends?  Maybe if there aren't quite enough tickets or scholarships to go around, we could have a sympathy-off where my-mother-just-had-surgery competes with I-just-lost-my-house.  (If you can't read the sarcasm, simply put, this is a horrible idea and completely defeats the purpose of not making people feel like crap.)

So, what is the solution?  If you just ask people to give what they can; this doesn't work.  Since they don't have an idea about what is expected, it will just make them anxious about giving.  It's like not knowing the customary bribes when you are traveling.  It's just awkward.

Solution: the magic of the "suggested donation"!

When pledge time comes around the suggested donation is generally a percentage of net income.  Even then, when you create the chart that does the math, start small.  Show what 1% is, 3%, 5% and 10%.  Put either the 3% or 5% in bold.  It's subtle, but they will get the idea.  I've seen such figures called "fair share" tables.  I think that is the right amount of guilt and manipulation.  Telling your congregants that they will burn if they don't tithe 10% or pulling a CBN and impling that if they give to the church they will win the the immortal words of Trent Reznor, "If there is a h......"

During any sort of event, simply mention what you would have charge otherwise as the "suggested donation".  You might be surprised.  For the $15 spaghetti and smelt dinner with entertainment by the Good News Happy Fun Time band to help pay for the character creating camping excursion; the suggested donation is $15 a person (or $25 for a family - childcare provided).  Now, everyone can come even if they only pony-up $4.35 of money found somewhere in their sofa and the people who are able to pay more, feel all fuzzy when they put a $20 bill in the box.

Oh yeah, and perhaps when Mr. and Mrs. Philenthropsis gives a big chunk of money to build the new edition, if might be okay to ask them for some input on what it should be called that doesn't start with P and rhyme with hilenthropsis.  I suggest naming it after someone that the organization admires for how that person lived her life or the great ideas she had (preferably someone who is dead, so she doesn't have a chance to really mess it up); but it doesn't need to be named after a person.  Instead, it could be named after something the organization values and the name could remind everyone walking past what the organization hopes to stand for.  You know, what they really care about.

(I mean, don't you think it would be weird if this was called "Wayne Hall"?)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Yes, you have to invite someone along even when the answer is always "no".

For the longest time, after moving to Michigan I would become pretty upset about not being invited to outings.  My new friends would routinely discuss going out and doing this and that, and then simply leave.  At first I thought I was just being over-sensitive.  Since I was much younger than my siblings, I would routinely be left behind by them on account of being "too young" or cramping their style.  So, naturally I assumed my discomfort and hurt feelings were from some sort of unresolved abandonment issue left over from being told, "No, you can't bike to Detroit Lakes with us on your tricycle."

I attempted to muster all my newly acquired Michigan-inspired confrontationalism and ask why I was not being invited, but before I was successful, one of my friends asked me, "Why don't you come with us when we go out?"


It was then when I realized that in Michigan, at least among that peer group, talking loudly about going somewhere in a person's presence was the same as inviting her somewhere.  All these months, all I had to do was say, "Is it alright if I come along?" or express interest in the activity.  My aversion to committing the faux pas of inviting myself was so strong, that I dared not speak.

So, what is the polite thing to do?  I tend to think that if you are discussing a fun activity that you should proactively invite everyone in ear-shot to come along, even if you are quite certain they will say no.  It simply reaffirms that you want to spend time with them.  If any one of them doesn't want to come along, she can simply say, "I'm not up to it" or "Not tonight, maybe some other time" or "I'd love to hang out, but wrestling pigs in green gelatin is not my thing."  What she should not do is make up an excuse not to go, such as washing her hair or a previous engagement with a Russian dignitary and a bottle of Jack.

If she really wants to go, she shouldn't be like me either.  Instead of saying nothing, she might at least express interest in the activity or simply ask to come.  However, in doing this, she must be willing to accept "no" as an answer or if the answer is not an immediate "yes" withdraw the request before awkwardness sets in.  She should convince herself that her company is like a fine hop-riddled beer, 80% dark chocolate, or a deep tissue massage - splendid in moderation but a little too over-whelming in excess.

So, what do you do if she asks to come along and you don't want her to?  It never feels good to be left out, unless the night ends in being vomited on, stripped searched and jailed (and even then sometimes the lack of commiseration with friends is a downer - especially if you call her to bail you out.)  This can be a delicate situation.

Consider grinning and baring it.  Perhaps it won't be so bad.  If all else fails, you can frame her for the petty misdemeanors.  You just have to be prepared to make bail instead of the other way around.

Consider giving the person a hint.  This hint is generally in the form of explaining how what you have been raving about for the last half an hour is actually not going to be any fun.  Be careful with this.  Even though you are attempting to be nice, if you out-and-out lie she is not just going to feel bad for being left out but feel bad for being lied to.  If you claim there is no room in the car, and she says she'll drive, then you tell her she won't have any fun, then she says she will, then you tell her that you're allergic to her sweater, and she says she'll just take it off, it's going to get obvious at some point.  She will then be left, all alone, to concoct all manner of paranoid delusions as to why she is so odious as to be dis-invited - Do I smell?  Do I laugh too loud?  Do I talk too much?  Do I talk too little?  Are they just stuck-up?  Do they think I'm stuck up?  Do they have something against nine-fingered, blue-haired, ultra-contra-anarcho-syndicalists?

If there is a serious reason why you don't want her to come along, privately and candidly explain.  "I'm sorry, but when we go out [activity] you tend to [incredibly obnoxious thing].  That's difficult for me because then I have to [unreasonable thing].  Perhaps some other time we can [activity we actually enjoy doing together], okay?"

Alternately, you can explain, "I want to feel free to be physically intimate with my date when we go out, and I will not feel that way with my seven year old sister anywhere near us.  I realize you don't understand now, but you will.  You will be very happy that when you are my age, I am not inviting myself to your dates."

I didn't, I do and I was.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, February 20, 2012

We're good at this because nature wants to kill us.

Having grown up out in the country, in Minnesota, between two very small towns, my social graces (such as they are) were formed in relative isolation.

The painful lack of confrontation - stoicism - and essential social passiveness of my upbringing, I thought for many years, was normal.  Then I moved around.  I slowly realized that the way that I go about things is really really weird.

I tried to make sense of why Minnesotans did the things they did.  Why did we act the way we acted?  I have come to the conclusion that, as most everything about Minnesota, it is about the climate.

I can just imagine what it was like back in the day, way back in the old country.  When the great outdoors is trying to kill you, I suspect it would be in your best interest not to be kicked out.  When a traveler comes to your door half-frozen, I suspect it would be more difficult to turn that person away.  When you routinely need to stay indoors with your family with literally no way out, I suppose it makes sense not to let things upset you so much.

We're just a different sort.

So, after much thought on the topic, I decided to begin a blog about social interactions with the understanding that I am the product of rural Minnesota niceties.  If social graces are natural to you, do not read this blog.  However, if you have ever struggled, please stay a while.  I have struggled enough, and have had to think about it often enough, that I may be able to be of some help.  I would also love to read your thoughts.

Thanks so much.