Manners: Remove Thyself!

I read this comic this week: (and if you don’t read QC – you should!)

And I don’t want to talk about the content per say – but rather when it’s time to remove yourself from a bad spot.  I definitely had that in 2 jobs.  I knew things were turning sour and I couldn’t see how to fix it without compromising myself/my ethics.  So it was time to start job hunting.

And this is true of relationships too.  Sometimes it’s a catalyst like Basilisk (the purple lady in the comic) experienced that just makes her see it.  Sometimes it builds up over time and one day you look at the mountain of evidence and say, “Oh. Wow.  Ok, that isn’t good anymore.”

Knowing this is hard though.  I’ve always been afraid I’m going to “give up” on stuff too quickly, which sometimes means I “stick with” it MUCH longer than I should.  I hate giving up.  I hate admitting defeat.  I hate admitting I made mistakes.

But you know what, I like seeing reminders that I should look for catalysts.  I should listen to the piles of evidence. So should you.

Manners: Pictures

Millennials hate getting their pictures taken.  I know this isn’t 100% true but the number of my peers who say “I hate getting pictures taken of myself” seems to vastly outnumber those who get excited (or hell even tolerate it).

I have no idea if there are actual statistics on this.  I know I get to see all kinds of articles about narcissistic millennials obsessed with selfies.  But 1 person taking 10,000 selfies is not the same as all 80 million millennials taking them “all the time.”  If all millennials were really that narcissistic it would be even worse.  Really.  People were obsessed with their own image hundreds of years before my generation.

Anywho.  Back to my point about “most millennials” hating getting their pictures taken.  I have decided this is because of poor manners.  Not bad manners, but certainly not good manners either.

I realized sometime between high school and college that the picture wasn’t about me.  Even when I was the only person in the picture – it wasn’t for me and it wasn’t even about me.  Pictures capture the emotion of that moment.  Think about the best pictures you have seen – did they invoke emotion?

They did for me. And looking at pictures of friends, I would realize how much I loved seeing their smiles and how much I appreciated them allowing me to capture that moment. And over time I realized I was denying my friends and family the same joy.

I hate myself in pictures. I hate that I’m overweight. I hate how unflattering the camera makes me feel.  But you know, there are pictures now that my mom pulls up on FB memories and I  look at myself and cringe – but it does evoke the memory of that day and the fun and the laughter…

This picture was taken in 2011 – it is completely not flattering, but you know – I remember the day my whole family helped my parents build those raised planting beds and put in dirt and fertilizer.  And I don’t care I looked awful and was a mess and literally ankle deep in dirt.  It’s an awesome memory and I’m glad I wasn’t hiding from the camera anymore.

I don’t know what memories from High School I have lost because I hid.  I don’t know which friends will have forgotten me because I hid. But I can say that now – I don’t hide.  I won’t hide from my friends and I won’t hide from the camera.  Because it isn’t about me. It isn’t about me looking good.

Pictures are about allowing yourself to participate.  Pictures are about allowing others a piece of you.  That old superstition about camera stealing your soul?  You know – I think there might be truth there.  They steal a little bit of you, but it isn’t a bad thing.  It preserves that piece and you can come back to it whenever you need a renewal.  Your friends and family and children can come and see that shining, wonderful piece of you.  And they will feel the joy they felt the day they held the camera.  You will share that joy with them again every time they see it.

So stop hiding from the camera.  When others want to snap your picture – let them.  This is like Jesus’s loaves and fishes – the more you give away; somehow, you end up with more yourself.



Manners: Meritocracy is Bullshit

So I had someone ask me to write about this – it wasn’t something I had directly run into, but the minute I googled it I went “Ah, yeah.  I’ve heard this argument in other versions”

The reason I put this as a “Manners” post is simple.  If you aren’t addressing your own imperfections/biases/etc. you are allowing yourself to be shallow and cruel – even if it’s unintentional, it’s rude.  It’s poor social skills. You may not realize you are being hurtful – but if I swing my elbow and break someone’s nose accidentally – my intention isn’t what mattered.  I apologize profusely, I grab gauze & tissues to stanch the bleeding.  I get a damn ice pack and try to be more careful I’m spinning in place.  I learn from the effect and I don’t shrug it off with “well that wasn’t my intent so suck it up and grow a thicker nose.”

Ok, so hopefully you’ll buy into “ok, intent isn’t the issue – but merit is good right?”

In theory yes.  Merit is awesome. So, the definition of these “meritocracy” companies is based on the idea that MERIT should be the #1-only-conceivable factor to come into a role.

And it’s bullshit.

Let’s look at places that claim to be a “meritocracy” – Kotaku just did a write up on a gaming company (who made League of Legends) who has rampant sexism – and can’t even acknowledge it.  They claim to be a meritocracy… shocker they also have rampant sexism.

Here’s the problem.

Claiming to be “merit based” can only be done if you can guarantee that personal bias doesn’t play.  And that isn’t possible.  We all have personal bias.  It’s nature.  It’s like people who say “I don’t see color.”  Ok, you are either blind or delusional.  Because even the color-blind can see the difference between Norwegians and Nigerians.  We all see it.  Blind people I’ll give a pass to on “I don’t see color.”  Saying that you just ignore your biases means you are ruled by your biases.

You can all too easily end up in confirmation bias if you don’t acknowledge you have bias.  I don’t want to spend this talking about that – but it’s out there (click here for a Google search)

I really like this video (grainy quality and all) that discusses priviledge in terms of a “race:

Don’t discount the advantages you’ve been given which can influence your bias.  Everyone works hard, but the same amount of work might get someone from point A-D whereas the person who started at B or C gets to E or F or sometimes even G because A really was a tough step and once you have A, damn – B and C aren’t nearly as bad and really you can get that extra letter’s worth of distance with the same amount of effort.  A is just that big and tough a step.

And the hard part is – I teach managers about hiring and finding the best candidate.  And I try to a void the word “bias” because it has become so loaded.  I tend to call it ‘rose colored glasses’ and talk about triggers which might “endear” a candidate to you subconsciously.  I then stress how having a well balanced team of personality types, strengths, and skills is a powerful tool.  If everyone is exactly the same… well you are going to make the same box-house.  But add and empower someone who considers a dome. Or east & west wings of a house.  Or a ranch instead of a cape cod.  Neighborhoods with character – have different kinds of houses.

Diversity builds character and interesting culture – just think of A Wrinkle in Time.  The planet IT controls is “everything is exactly the same” – and it’s BORING.  So not only (a) do you not WANT to be “color blind” because then you are just getting the same in a different package (I know, the Zelda 3DS is cool looking, but really? It’s the same machine) but (b) you are lying – because we DO have biases.

There is a quote, and I couldn’t find who said it originally, the closest I saw was something on imgur that said “my mom used to tell me” and it really sums up what I think is wrong by claiming ONLY merit matters:

The first thought that goes through your mind is what you have been conditioned to think; what you think next defines who you are.

If you never stop and think about the thought about people – you will never define yourself.  You will live by someone else’s definitions of how you should behave.  Hell, I’ve caught myself with instant thoughts that make me recoil:

  • God she looks like a slut.  Shit.  I don’t want to judge other women that way, she isn’t a slut because of the way she dresses.
  • Ugh, that dude smiled at me. Bet he wants sex.  Hold on – maybe not. Stop assuming all men think about sex all the time.
  • Those teens are probably brats.  No, they are being loud but that doesn’t mean they are guaranteed to be assholes.
  • Ugh. That color is awful.  I wonder if she wore it to clash on purpose.  No, no. People are allowed to have different taste – orange and blue may seem hideous to me, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t think it’s awesome.
  • That man looks creepy.  Oh nope, the way he’s looking at me definitely makes my skin crawl.  Avoid.

It isn’t easy to unlearn trained biases and society does have those.  Jim Crow laws still existed in my parent’s generation – what parts of that shitty system crept into their mindset that they haven’t unlearned yet?  As a culture, we have issues – and there is statistical evidence to back this up – that racism is a VERY REAL issue.  So if you aren’t willing to confront your internal biases – then when you are interviewing someone and that insidious “he’s black, I bet he’s a ‘thug'” creeps through your mind… you don’t squash it.  And since it isn’t there for the white dude – *GASP* you end up with a super-white team.  And it was all “merit’ to you – but was it?  Or was it you unwilling to do the hard work of acknowledging you were given some bad nails in your upbringing that make your steps creak. Well, I guess it’s just a feature, not a bug then right?

Manners: April Fools

HATE this “holiday.”

So let’s define what makes April Fools a thing.  (A) Pranks and (B) LIES.

When people talk to me about it, I tend to say April Fools is the day in which we glorify bullies.  Because let’s be clear here; pranks and lies are a breeding ground for bullies and abusers.  So even if you are just being funny; you are giving permission for that person/those people for whom something like “empathy” is a bad word… well, all you’re doing is telling them this kind of behavior actually is acceptable.

Yes, I am arguing that just like telling rape jokes informs rapists that other people think their actions are (ever) acceptable; your April Fools actions tells bullies & abusers that what they do every day must have some kind social acceptability.

There are exceptions.  Google has generally been good at April Fools; saying they were going to use toilets/sewer systems to get internet to people; scratch & sniff searching; rickrolling youtube viewers; translating animal sounds into human language; the pokemon map challenge (probably my favorite).

Here is what I see the difference being.  Putting out broccoli in a donut box isn’t horrible; but if I’m having a really shitty day and I go into the break room and I have that moment of “oh, wow. Someone did something NICE for us.” and then open it and find broccoli – “UGH.  Damnit, that would have made my day so much nicer.” At the end of the day you didn’t hurt me.  But the person who posts on facebook they are pregnant “april fools” – to every woman struggling with conception – that shit hurt.  To the woman who is suffering in silence (because society says she should “get over it”) from a miscarriage – that shit HURT.  And that isn’t a far step from one prank to the other.  And then putting reese’s pieces into a bowl with skittles and M&M’s might seem funny – until someone with a peanut allergy takes a “safe snack” and ends up in the ER (or worse).

And there are always people who take things too far.  Putting inedibles in food and handing it out randomly (one I’ve seen is replacing gum with play doh – it isn’t poisonous) or disgusting foods (caramel onions anyone?). But how the hell is that actually funny? Ruining clothes or forcing someone to spend hours cleaning up (again – things like “planting grass in someone’s keyboard” or wrapping their entire cubicle in wrapping paper):  How the hell is that funny? How long would it take to clean that shit up?  More than 10 minutes?  That would be a very annoying +10 minutes.

So despite the fact that funny pranks can happen; I hate this holiday.  I hate seeing a day which allows bullies to delight themselves in others’ pain.  I hate seeing parents glorify bullying behaviors for their children so their children repeat this shit every day after.  Because that’s what happens -children see their parents planning/pulling these pranks; and in the worst cases they continue to “one up” themselves until someone gets hurt. Or until they find themselves isolated and don’t understand why.

So before you post a fake pregnancy on Facebook this weekend for your April Fools joke (which btw is EASTER so… maybe just go with that holiday instead anyway?) think about it – could you be posting something that causes emotional pain? Are you sure it won’t?  Could someone think that your prank gives them permission to take the joke “too far” next time? Are you setting the example of empathy you want to see in others or are you delighting in the frustration of others?

Manners: Fault Vs. Resposibility

This first came up in an article I read about Millennials having to take on responsibilities for things like global warming – and it’s not our fault.  The economy being in turmoil – and it’s not our fault.

But if the last Millennials were born ~1997, they are now 21 years old.  They are voting, and drinking – a majority (the 1981-1992 set) can rent cars. They can run for every office in the land (ok, so only like 2-3 years worth could run for President this year, but we have another 2 years and then…. well someone born in 1985 would be eligible for President, that is well within the range of Millennial age). We are now a generation of adults.

We are responsible.

We might not have caused the collapse of infrastructure. We may not have de-funded our education system.  We didn’t cause the crash of the housing market in 2007/2008…. but we are going to have to be responsible for cleaning it up.

Ok, so all that’s big level stuff – but this fault vs. responsibility has kept cropping up in all kinds of ways.  My husband and I were talking about chores around the house: pumping water off the pool cover; trimming the hedges; changing the filters in the A/C units; throwing away the junk mail… neither of us are at fault for these things – but we are responsible.

Every parent I know is going to be blinking and saying “duh” at this one – but those dirty clothes piled up in your toddler’s room.  Definitely, their fault; but you are the adult and responsible for them having something clean to wear tomorrow.  Same with running out of milk or the last cookie or the toys being broken… parents are responsible and they are definitely not the one doing all these things!

At work I am running a project with a team of about 6 people. I ran into an issue earlier this week where I wasn’t at fault, but if this thing didn’t get done the whole project would be massively delayed. And at the end of the day; when my senior leadership listens to clients either praise or criticize the results of this project…. I am responsible.  So I spent my evening at home sitting at my dining room table cleaning up someone else’s mess.

It has really helped me stay away from feeling like a victim. Yes, I was pissed that I had to spend my “free time” dealing with someone else’s mess; but, I also knew that in six months when my senior leaders hear from clients who are in love with this – they are going to give me the credit. I am responsible; and that means I have the power to change things.

Manners: Decisions

We have all had this conversation at some point in our lives:

  • Person A: I’m hungry. Lets eat.
  • Person B: Oh yeah. Where do you want to go?
  • Person A: I’m so hungry, I don’t care.
  • Person B: Ok. How about [This place]
  • Person A: Oh no, not [This place] I don’t feel like [their food]
  • Person B: Alright, where do you want to go?
  • Person A: I don’t really care.

How many of you knew by the third line where this conversation was going?  How many felt their butt clench with internal rage because we have been Person B too often in our lives?

So skipping over some of the fun conversations about healthy communication, boundaries and emotional labor here… let’s get right to the meat. Person A doesn’t want to have to make a decision but they want a vote in the decision that’s made.

This is terrible manners.

For the folks in the back:

This is TERRIBLE manners.

The why is that it is very disrespectful to PersonB (for sure).  They are trying to show kindness and compassion and they are shot down.  It hurts when this happens.  Sometimes it’s a dumb thing, but when this becomes a habit in a relationship it begins to crop up in more and more important conversations (not just romantic relationships – siblings, friends, and co-workers).

This is why my husband and I play what we call “the veto game.”  In this world, we both come into the situation knowing if we veto an idea (specifically when it comes to “solutions for a problem”) we are responsible for coming up with the alternative.  It completely changes the conversation (and associated emotions):

  • Person A: I’m hungry. Lets eat.
  • Person B: Oh yeah. Where do you want to go?
  • Person A: I’m so hungry, I don’t care.
  • Person B: Ok. How about [This place]
  • Person A: Oh no, not [This place] I don’t feel like [their food]
  • Person B: Alright, your turn. Where should we go then?
  • Person A: Hmmm. What about [Other Place]

Can you see the difference?  When PersonA takes the responsibility that they have shot down an idea it transfers to them – this conversation goes Very, Very (yes, those are capitalized!) differently.  The balance of power is equalized and respect to the first suggestion is not somehow dismissive (and this part I can’t full explain) even if the second choice gets veto’ed and Person B has to come up with a third option – the “value” of each suggestion is increased.

Alright, so we’ve all had this conversation about food.  I’m now going to sneak in two more examples that are far more “serious”

  • Person A: The car has a flat tire.
  • Person B: We should take it to [TirePlace]
  • Person A: The tire is already flat, we’d have to have it towed.
  • Person B: Ok. What do you think we should do?
  • Person A: I was hoping you had an idea.
  • Person B: Well, can we put on the doughnut?
  • Person A: I don’t have a doughnut.
  • Person B: Then I guess you’ll have to get it towed.
  • Person A: We can’t afford that.

Is anyone else feeling their butt clench again?

  • Person A: The car has a flat tire.
  • Person B: We should take it to [TirePlace]
  • Person A: The tire is already flat, we’d have to have it towed.
  • Person B: Ok. What do you think we should do?
  • Person A: I’m really worried how much that costs. Can I use the doughnut from your car?

Person A took a risk.  This might be the wrong size and Person B may not want to risk their own tires. They might not have doughnut (this is apparently a new trend where cars don’t have doughnuts?!?) between the two cars.  BUT – Person A is being an active participant.  They aren’t just passively saying “No. No. No.”  Can you see/feel the difference?  In one of them Person B is having to come up with all the solutions & options and …. they bear all the stress while Person A shoots them down over and over and over.

Manners is defined “as a way of doing, being done, or happening; mode of action, occurrence, etc.”  What way are you doing?  Because DOING is manners.  A mode of action, not passively shooting down others.

When you step into any argument where two people agree on a point (something is “broken”) but can’t agree on a solution; listen. Are both people putting forward options or does one side like to shoot down all the options because although they technically agree that they hate the status quo; the idea of “winning” or “being right” or “:proving the other guy wrong” is actually more important.  And then think about the last example. When the person finally can just ask for what they really want – that risk of rejection.  It takes courage. It takes courage to ask a girl out instead of claiming “friendzoned” and it takes courage to tell people you want to strip-mine their land.  You might get rejected.  But it’s still the right thing to do.

Manners: When Winners Lose

One of the reasons I do not particularly like competitive sports is “winners.” A turn of a foot, a play that is only successful one in eight times can win or lose a game. Yes, there is skill. And there is “will” to be the best. These help – but usually (not always, but all-to-often) when you come to things like “championships” they are (or should be!) close on skill and will. The best games are the ones where everyone is guessing who will win. They are fun to watch. They are tense to play.

The players who walk away from those games are disappointed. Man do I get that… that is an awful feeling. And the winners are elated. Who wouldn’t be? Especially for those massive games where it was close and no one knows who will walk out victorious.

You see, there are the winners who rub it in. They wear their badges of honor and wins and tell everyone how amazing they are. Their win was only impressive because they managed to eke one more goal or run or point than the other team. And sometimes it was luck more than skill.  It was combination of throwing, good shoes, no pebbles, and JUST the right angle. A hair in a different direction and the game could have been vastly different.

One of the skills that is rarely taught now (or doesn’t seem to be) is the concept of humility. Merriam-Webster’s definition for those who don’t speak English is:

the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people : the quality or state of being humble

Winning when you are much better at something than the other person isn’t fun. Just watch any adult playing tic-tac-toe with a toddler/very-small child. It isn’t fun to WIN against them because the odds aren’t even in the same realm.  The adult IS better than the child – they are older and wiser and lost tic-tac-toe a lot themselves before learning the tricks.

So when you win a tight “game” and you want to celebrate – start by thanking the other team/person. Thank them for pushing you to be your absolute best. Thank them for making that mountain damn hard. Thank them with all the sincerity that it was their loss and their battle which made your win so awesome. You weren’t playing against a toddler, you played against an equal.

This is the essence of humility.  This acknowledgement that no success is isolated and the greatest successes (think about the Manhattan project or the moon race) are when the opponents are stronger because of the other. Would we have made it to the moon in less than 10 years if USSR hadn’t been pushing us? I doubt it.  Look at how little distance the USA has gone since we lost that great rivalry to push us, challenge us, and encourage us.

Next time you win, look at who pushed you; who challenged you; and who helped you.  Thank them. Thank them all.