Sunday, May 20, 2018

Something Suddenly Came Up

Something I learned watching the Brady Bunch back in the day - it's rude to break off plans without giving a real reason.

Marcia is excited to go to the dance with Doug, BMOC (Big Man On Campus).  But when she gets hit in the nose with a football ("Mom always said, don't play ball in the house!"), Doug begs off, telling Marcia, "Something suddenly came up."

It's portrayed as the cool kid thinking he can do whatever he wants, even being rude by not giving a real reason for breaking the date.  And I agree that it's rude.  Have you ever had someone break off their plans with you without giving a reason?  "Sorry, our plans changed."  That's not an explanation!

In my book, if you make plans with someone, you follow through.  There are exceptions, of course.  If someone is in the hospital, it is acceptable to break your plans - an emergency is a valid reason to cancel.  I also think it's OK to change your plans if a MUCH better offer comes along.  Not just any offer, but something you can't do at any other time.  If you had dinner plans with a friend, and another friend comes up with tickets to see your favorite band, that's understandable.  But even then, I would call the person I had plans with, and ask if I could be excused or if we could reschedule, and I would explain about the event that came up.  Because, the way I was raised, you don't just change your plans willy-nilly, and you try to treat people with respect.

To break plans with someone, and not tell them why, is rude.  Look, I'm understanding.  I have, on occasion, had better things come up.  But I touch base with the person I'm cancelling on and make sure it's cool.  Because that's what proper, civilized people do.

Monday, May 14, 2018

In defense of using the word 'Girl'

Like many guys, I often use the word 'girl', instead of 'woman'.  As in, 'I saw a cute girl' or 'Damn that girl is cute!' or 'Damn, girl!' (OK, I don't use that last one, because, due to an abnormality with my thumbs, I am unable to snap my fingers.)

I know there are some women who take offense at this.  As I understand it, the complaint is that using the term 'girl' infantilizes women.  As in a boss telling a woman that she's not as good at business because she's 'just a girl'.

But that comment could just as easily be 'just a woman'.  The problem is the tone or idea behind it.  Right?  And I don't think of women as inferior, so that's not a sentence I would ever say.  Frankly, it's hard for me to imagine anyone saying that these days, but maybe I just don't know those people.  Or because I don't work in an advertising firm in the 1960's.

But, the next question is, do I mean something different when I say woman or girl?  Yes, I do.  Here's how I kinda categorize it.  If I'm talking in general or in a professional way, I will tend to use 'woman'.  If I'm talking in a more casual way, it will often be 'girl'.  But there is more to it.  Because while I don't think I'm infantilizing women, there is a qualitative difference.  And I think it's that 'girl' implies youthfulness.  Not necessarily childish, but youthful and playful.  There are cute girls and attractive women.  Girls are still girlish, in the same way that guys are still boyish (although that can play out differently for each gender).  So, in that sense, if a woman is in her 50's and I call her a girl, it's very much a compliment, because I'm seeing her as still youthful and vital.  And not that leaving girlishness behind and becoming more mature is a bad thing, either - both are good.  But everyone, man or woman, grows more mature over time (one hopes).  Still, I actually have great respect for people who know when not to act their age.  Possibly because they're coming down to my level.

So how come we say 'guys' for men and 'girls' for women?  Probably because it used to be guys and dolls, but 'doll' feels outdated (not to mention quite a bit more sexist than 'girl').  And because the English language is weird that way.  We also drive on parkways and park on driveways, but only Steven Wright is upset about that.

I suppose some other arguments could be made.  Like how using it is perpetuating the male-dominated patriarchy.  Or how it's about calling women what they want to be called, or how if some people find it offensive, then everyone should just change.  But the question is, do I really care, if people are just looking to be offended?  Because, if you know me, I think you know I'm a good guy and I'm not infantilizing women.  If anything, I generally think men are more likely to act in a childish manner. 

So, I'll try not to use the word 'girl' in professional situations.  How's about you give me a little grace and benefit of the doubt and see that I'm actually being complimentary and descriptive in what, to me, is a positive way?  As in, 'Damn, girl!  You are looking fine!'  Nope, still can't pull that off.

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Wheels on the Bus ...

When I was around 25, I had no car.  I'd been in a car accident and I'd let my insurance expire, so my year-old-but-now-totaled car was not going to be replaced.  I was working at a retail job, with no real hope of even saving up for a new car.  So I was in a good place.

I lived in Altadena and it would take me about 45 minutes to walk to work in Pasadena, so that was doable.  But on Wednesdays, I had to see my therapist in Glendale, so I had to take the bus.  My bus stop was the first one of that particular bus's line.  And when it got there, I would get on with maybe one or two other people.  And as the bus progressed, people would get on and off and the bus would slowly fill up.  And I noticed something interesting.  Every seat would fill up, and there would even be people standing in the aisles, before anyone would sit next to me.  Every week.  People would stand in the aisle, swinging around  with one hand on the railing and the other holding their 16 bags of groceries, rather than sit next to me.  Good thing I was going to therapy, right?

Once I noticed it there, I noticed it other places.  This phenomenon has followed me.  Not every single time, but a lot.  Classes?  Empty seats on either side of me.  Church?  My row is the last to fill up.  At my small group the other night, there was a ring of chairs, and every one of them was taken except - you guessed it - the one on either side of me.  And not only that, but one of the ones next to me was clearly a comfy chair as compared to the other available hard-backed chairs.  When this was pointed out to a woman who had just taken a seat, she did then move to the comfy chair next to me.  But she had to think about it.

I had this one friend at church, and when he would sit next to me, he would sit one seat over. I kid you not.  The whole church would fill up, the ushers would be asking people to scoot, and he'd still leave a chair between us.  So I told him the story of the bus, and he agreed it was odd.  Next week, my friend shows up and seat over.  I asked him - 'Remember the story I told you about the bus?  About people not sitting next to me?'  'Yeah, what about it?'

So, what is it?  I bathe.  I know I have an acerbic personality, but it often happens before I've even said a word.  Maybe people just feel more more comfortable sitting next to Bill or Clive or the smelly, homeless man.  I dunno.

You might think this is perception bias.  Maybe I just notice WHEN it happens.  I don't think so.  You're not paranoid if people really are out to get you.  Mind you, I'm not saying people are out to get me ... they clearly don't want to be anywhere near me.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Self Aware vs Other Aware

I think I'm pretty self-aware.  I think that, compared to most people, I'm pretty in touch with how I tick and what's made me the way I am.  I am sometimes surprised by new revelations, but I enjoy digging in and figuring myself out.

And all of that is good.  The unexamined life is not worth living, and all that.  But I'm not very other aware.

Sure, I like to figure out what makes other people tick.  I'm good at spotting patterns that I've seen elsewhere and applying them to new people.  I'm a student of human behavior.  But I approach it with a scientist's brain.

I was recently called prickly.  It didn't bother me.  Much.  But it got me thinking.  What does that look like?  So, in conversation with a new friend, I asked, "Am I prickly?"  Her immediate response was, "Yes."  She went on to say that I'm funny, and I know I'm funny, and I throw in a lot of geeky or pop culture references.  And that people can find me abrasive or be put off by me.

Which is curious to me.  Isn't funny a good thing?  Don't people gravitate towards funny people?  Why is that prickly?  But she explained that people don't always get that I'm joking.

Now, my usual response to something like that is that the people not laughing are either boring or not very smart or overly sensitive.  But maybe they're not.  Maybe I just don't get them.  Me.  Not getting them.  I know, it seems crazy to even consider, but maybe there are people whose thoughts and feelings I have not completely figured out who nonetheless have valid opinions about me.  Hmmm.

Of course, it goes deeper than that.  Even close friends often seem alien to me.  They'll tell me their hopes or motivations or fears, and my response will range from confusion to laughter.  How can anyone think or feel so completely differently from me?  Don't get me wrong - I'm often fascinated by the differences and love trying to puzzle them out.  But, if I'm honest, at the end of the day, I have a hunch that my brain is wired correctly and their is not.  I mean, other than the things that are wrong with me, but I know what most of those are.  And besides the addictions and compulsions and fears, surely my brain and personality is the right one.  Right?

I do tend to treat other people like a puzzle to figure out, more than a living, breathing person to just love and understand.  I have to remind myself to ask friends about things that are important to them: How's your dad doing after his surgery?  What ever happened with that problem at work?  I realize this makes me an ass, but I kinda don't care.  I care about the way you think and your motivations, but not so much about life events.  I really struggle with ... how should I put this?  It's like I know that other people are real and have their own lives and thoughts and emotions, but it doesn't feel real.  I sometimes fee like my life is a play, but I'm the only real person.

That's pretty shitty, actually.  I dunno - maybe we're all like this, to some degree.  We are all stuck in our own heads, unable to peer inside each other.  I actually have a story developing in my head about a society where people can, only by choice, choose to experience each other.  Like an emotional mind meld.  And in my story, it's a much more peaceful society, because everyone is much more aware that other people are real and therefore feel worse when they do something that hurts another.

So that's me.  I'm aware of myself, but not very aware of others.  You're all like shadows to me.  Except those with high empathy.  They break through - they feel things more strongly, and in return I feel them feeling things.  Mmmm .... feelings.  I am an emotional leech, after all.  I love strong feelings.  And maybe there is something broken in me, that doesn't sense other people's feelings as much as I ought to.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

What is Joy?

My pastor today was trying to define joy.  He had a weird sentence that I think was intentionally odd, so as to be memorable.  Something like Joy is how you go WITH as you travel THROUGH.  I actually don't think he stuck the landing.

But it got me thinking.  My definition of joy has always been 'meaning and purpose'.  In other words it's not about being happy (most of us can agree on that), so much as it's the stuff that makes you happy a lot of the time.  Because you can be sad and still have joy, like when someone close to you dies, but you believe they're going to be with Jesus.

I was talking with some friends afterwards, and I came up with another definition, which is 'a sense that you're on the right track'.  That resonated with all three of us.  And using that, you can have the 'joy of the Lord' - the sense that you're trusting in Him and He loves you and is guiding you.  But you can also have other kinds of joy, like career joy or girlfriend joy or Christmas joy - a sense that despite flaws or setbacks or whatever, you're mostly on the right track for meeting your goals or doing life together or enjoying the sense of giving that goes with the season.

So, that's what I'm thinking about joy.  What's your definition?