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.

Manners: Kindergarten

You know that phrase “everything you need to know about life can be learned….” I’m a big fan of the answer “kindergarten”

Are you lonely and in need of a smile? Try sitting in a field of flowers and imagine the singing flowers from Alice in Wonderland (old Disney, not new Disney). Or coloring. Or asking for a hug.

If you see someone crying, go and sit beside them, hold their hand. You don’t have to say anything – just be there.

Are you nervous at a conference? Find your buddy!  Best plan – have a buddy before you show up and make sure you find your buddy! Your buddy will help you be safe.

Did you learn in Kindergarten NOT to cut in line? Next time you’re driving and you see a line of cars…

Are you in a public restroom?  Guess what – just like you were taught at school, you need to check and MAKE SURE you flushed it all. People run out like the TP is going to jump out of the bowl and attack them.  Like – you already USED the public toilet. It’s too late to hide from it, now be an adult and make sure it flushes. Some of them need an extra flush…

Are you stressed? Get some milk and cookies.  See how much you can dunk without it crumbling OR getting milk on your fingers.

Manners: NotAllMen

I can’t believe this is still a thing. I can’t believe there are still so damn many men who can’t get why #NotAllMen IS a problem.

Here’s the thing, women know not every man is dangerous. Women know that not every man is a rapist (intentionally or not is different post). Women know that there are some men who are our supporters, friends, advocates, and sometimes – yes we sometimes want this – our defenders.  I know I’ve explained what I call the Goethe spectrum when we meet strangers; but I think it’s really even easier to understand.

So a man sees a woman walking down the street and smiles at her and says hello.

The woman must make an instantaneous decision whether she is safe or not (Seriously, go read the Goethe link if you haven’t yet).  She might get it wrong. She might just be feeling anxious and this poor guy pings higher on the scale than he should.  Here is what the man should consider:

  1. She doesn’t know me. She had to make a split decision based on her own personal Goethe spectrum and I pinged high enough to merit a hasty retreat.
  2. IF I was actually a dangerous rapist/kidnapper/murderer she ignored, she just possibly saved her own life/sanity. Good for her!
  3. IF I am NOT actually a dangerous rapist/kidnapper/murderer what did she do that hurt me.

And really, just to question 3.  She didn’t say “hi” back. She ignored you.  Did she hurt you or your feelings?  If it’s the latter… well guess what, you need to put on your big-boy pants and deal.  I know for a fact that ignoring you did not cause you physical harm. Because here is what she is probably thinking:

Ok, so if I say hi back and he kidnaps me, is there anyone around? Well yeah, but by-stander effect will any of these people do anything? No clue. Ok. so if I don’t say hi, and he’s a perfectly nice guy I’ve missed out on a chance for a new friend.  New Friend or possible murderer? Possible love-of-my-life or possible next-twenty-years-in-his-basement. Possible bliss or possible torture. I’m not going to risk it! Gonna walk a little faster, get that group of people between me and him!

Ok, you’re right, MOST women probably don’t do this consciously. Only weirdos do. But I would lay donuts to dollars down that if you showed it to a woman she would nod and say it feels familiar even if it isn’t the exact wording she would process.

And it happens in an instant. 2-3 seconds. That time that you holding your breath in hope – she is running risk/reward analysis in her brain.

The next time one of your male friends tries to pull the “Not ALL men! Not me!” look at him and said, “Maybe not you. Not me. But someone. They exist and she doesn’t know if you are that one.”  And when he looks shocked and says, “It’s not fair, she’s not giving me a chance to prove i’m not!”  You can look him in the eye and say, “She’s not giving you the chance to prove you ARE.”

THAT is the champion we need.  We need our male friends/relatives to look at their #NotAllMen friends and say, “She’s not giving you the chance to prove you ARE.”

Manners: Is “if” a bad word?

This occurred to me only recently, but it is too true: If you have to use “if” to qualify something, it’s probably bad. IF gets used to cover up an insult or negative feedback instead of just having the spine to stand up to your own comment. Look at these examples:

  • If this had more salt, it would be delicious! (wait, so it’s not good?)
  • If you got contacts, we could see your pretty face. (wait, so glasses somehow “hide” facial features?)
  • If that shirt was just cut a little differently… (so it looks bad. I get it)
  • If we go to that restaurant, we might miss the movie (so the movie is your priority.)
  • If you want the blue one, get the blue one (why won’t you just tell me which one you recommend? I asked you!)

Even when it is referencing something good “If we buy this house, we can start our family” or “If we go on vacation, we can relax” it has this tinge of “If we don’t…”

I’m not saying people can’t use the word “if” – but I think we all know that the qualifier “if” means that the person speaking is trying to avoid hurting feelings or creating a hard stance. It gives wriggle room for the speaker to have a socially acceptable escape for their opinion.

I’ve been trying to come up with “positive” if statements and they elude me. So far, all I’ve found is “If so, you’re not alone” (you know – like every blog that is “you know that thing? Me too!”).  This has led me to try to watch my own use of if. Am I using in a way that I am setting unspoken conditions? Or am I using it as a rhetorical device (the only option I found that I couldn’t make negative)? The former I think I should reconsider; the latter? Well, rhetorical devices have a purpose but I’m not sure they are always a polite choice either.