Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Social rules

I hate many social "rules". They are silly and pointless. Like if I don't say hi to someone I pass in the hall, I'm considered rude or antisocial. Maybe I am thinking about something or distracted, but most likely I just figure you have better things to do then talk to everyone you meet. I've always said the Golden Rule is BS. Whenever I follow it, I get in trouble. I don't chat with people in the lunchroom because I wouldn't want them to chat with me. But my manager says I come off wrong, so now I chat. Especially with certain people that I know are sensitive about that.

But the one that has always bugged me is the polite/courtesy dance where nobody really does what they want because they are worried about "offending" someone. The classic example is giving money for a neighborly deed like watching a kid for a few hours or doing some yard chore. The person doing the nice thing is offered money, refuses it, the person insists, it just becomes a ridiculous spectacle. My rule is: if you offer me money, I'm going to take it because you would be offended or feel embarrassed if I did something for free. If you don't really want me to take the money, then don't offer it. Another similar example is sending someone a check that you know they will most likely not cash. Again, I'll cash it because I don't want to screw up their checking account, in addition to the reasons stated above. I'll admit to being on the sending end of that one - the dance is a bit more bearable via mail. The flip side is the person who does something that they should do as a good neighbor and don't want to get paid, so would refuse if you offered. But they get offended if you don't. HUH? WTF? These people are stupid. It's all part of the silly social dance us humans sometimes fall prey to.

Another one that really goes beyond annoying and into hurtful. When someone doesn't say what they are thinking or what they want because they "don't want to hurt any one's feelings". HUH? You think I would prefer that you lie to me? Omissions are just as dishonest as outright lies. Lying to me is less hurtful then being honest? 2 reasons why this is stupid: 1) you could be wrong, it might not hurt their feelings, if you just tell them with a little tact 2) if they find out anyway, their feelings will be MORE hurt then if you had just had the courage to be honest to begin with. And don't pull this you were supposed to get the hint crap either. If you want me to do something, not do something, or say something - tell me! Don't assume that I'll figure it out. 1) I probably won't 2) even if I do, I will be uncertain if I am "taking the hint" correctly (could be misinterpreting or "taking a hint" that was not intended) 3) It's all a silly waste of time, effort and aggravation that could have been avoided if you had just told me what you want/felt to begin with. I've always been a firm believer in stab me in the front, not in the back. That and never make assumptions. Occasionally, you might be right to hesitate and you do end up hurting their feelings. But it is far better to know you can trust a person to tell you how it is then to never really trust any feedback they give you because they might be "trying not to hurt your feelings".

Don't be afraid to give honest feedback. If you have something to say that you are pretty sure your audience won't like, take 2 steps. 1) Is this really that important to you, to risk the possible harm to your relationship? Will it bother you if nothing is said and nothing changes? If not, then remind yourself that you decided you could live with it and don't let it become a point of resentment. 2)If it is important to you, then you need to find a way to tactfully say it. If tact is not your thing or you just can't find the tactful way to say it, you just have to say it anyway. Don't be afraid of the confrontation. Remember, you never know what the other person feels about it - they might be ready and willing to adapt their position to be consistent with your desires and feelings or maybe didn't even feel that strongly about their position anyway and easily change. Perhaps the immediate reaction will be intense and negative, but most likely they will eventually figure out a way to accept your position. Certainly, they can only do so if they are aware of it. Ultimately, confrontation is much preferred to simmering resentment or constant frustration.

One final thing that is not really a social rule, but a related major relationship thorn: be aware of the difference between advice and judgement. Some people have a very hard time accepting the fact that just because someone makes a choice different then that which they would have made, it does not mean it is wrong. Or even if it is - everyone has to make their own choices and their own mistakes, deciding for themselves if it was wrong. Usually, many of the "mistakes" that they continue to bring up were not really mistakes at all, but just different choices. You could point to several mistakes they have made, some of which they would acknowledge, but many of which they are completely oblivious. I don't point these out though, because not only would it be be pointless, but I try very hard to remember that any conclusion could be incorrect. In contrast, they think their opinions and perspectives are facts and that anyone who does things differently is being foolish. They can't help it, they think that their way is the only way. Not in their head perhaps (I hope!), but in their hearts. It ranges from the big things in life like what religion to follow to the little things like which bait to use when fishing. A good rule of thumb for this: say it once, if they heed the "advice" then that's fine and dandy, if not - then let it go and move on.


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