celebrities, communication, condescending twatbags, music, overly helpful people, social media

An innocent birthday greeting goes horribly awry…

Yesterday, as I was enjoying the fact that it was Friday, I ran across a post by famed singer-songwriter Janis Ian. I recently started following her Facebook page again after an incident in 2019, in which an overbearing twit shamed me for a rather innocuous comment I made. Okay, so on the surface, it was kind of a violent comment, but it was in response to someone else’s comment, and was pretty obviously not meant to be taken literally. This guy chose to come at me, instead of the person before me. I got annoyed and responded to him, and Janis Ian, herself, left me a response, which I decided not to read, because I was irritated and didn’t want to be compelled to respond further. I think it happened during one of Bill’s TDYs, which always cause me stress and aggravation. You can read about that incident here, not that it’s all that exciting. Actually, that post is a bit nostalgic, since it was posted before the plague.

After that minor spat, I decided to take a break from Janis Ian’s page, because, even though I enjoy her music, I find her a little bit hypocritical at times. Some of her followers are also a little too rabidly “woke” for my taste, too. I don’t like aggressively obnoxious people on either side of the spectrum, who insist that their opinions are the only “correct” ones. Life is stressful enough as it is. I probably comment once or twice a day on pages that aren’t my own or a friend’s, mainly because I don’t like arguing with strangers. During the pandemic, I have noticed that more and more people want to fight with others. It’s as if many of us have lost all concept of basic civility and decorum. I think that may be one major reason why so many people are freaking out in public.

So lately, I’ve been following Janis again. I enjoy most of her memes. I think she has a good sense of humor. A lot of her songs are beautiful. But every once in awhile, she reveals a part of her personality that, I think if I knew her personally, I wouldn’t like very much. I ran into that yesterday, when I saw that she had posted a sweet birthday greeting to Roberta Flack, who turned 85 yesterday. Yesterday was also my eldest sister’s birthday, so that’s probably why I noticed.

I’m sure Janis Ian was being very sincere when she wished Roberta Flack a happy birthday. It should not have been a controversial post at all. But, when Janis wrote her greeting, she commented that Roberta is now “85 years young.” One of her, probably ex followers by now, took her to task for writing “85 years young” instead of “85 years old”. The follower wrote that she found the use of “young” instead of “old” very condescending and made some other comments that were a bit chastising in their tone and, no doubt, offensive. I do remember the woman’s parting shot was something along the lines of, “There’s nothing bad about getting old. It’s better than the alternative.” There was more to the post, but I didn’t bother to get a screenshot, nor did I leave any comments myself. I was just observing.

Allow me to state two things from the upshot. First off, I kind of agree with the poster that substituting the word “young” for “old” is potentially condescending and ageist. I remember a wonderful and wise rant by the late George Carlin that addressed that very thing (see the video below if you’re curious). He was talking about how many Americans have a tendency to substitute soft, flabby euphemisms for things that are potentially offensive or unpleasant. And one of his examples was substituting the word “young” for “old” when mentioning someone’s age. The poster who took on Janis Ian yesterday was echoing George Carlin, and as far as I’m concerned, George was often right about a lot of things. Or, even if he wasn’t right, he often stated things that invited more consideration.

I tend to agree with George on a lot of things, including using the word “young” instead of “old” when describing a person’s age.

And secondly, I agree with Janis Ian that it’s annoying when you try to post something on your very own Facebook page or blog or whatever, and some rando comes along and criticizes you for how you express yourself, your opinions, and whatever else. A lot of times, they completely misconstrue, miss the point, or project their own shit on a situation and turn it into something it shouldn’t be. As a blogger with authority issues, I run into that situation myself all the time!

My whole life, people have told me that I’m inappropriate, rude, obnoxious, offensive, or any manner of other adjectives, often for just speaking my mind or stating the truth as I see it. As a woman growing up in small town southern Virginia, as the youngest sibling of four, and as the daughter of a mentally damaged alcoholic with PTSD, I have been on the receiving end of a lot of negativity regarding my looks and personality. Many people have criticized me for being myself. Even my own grandmother found me annoying, and she even made a crack about how Bill’s “charm” was rubbing off on me. Both she and my dad (her son), hated things about me that I can’t control, like my laugh. Too many people have tried to silence me and squelch my natural personality, instead of just scrolling by or considering for a moment why I am the way I am. I used to let it depress me, but now I tend to speak up… and if I’m honest, it also gets me down, too. Can’t lie about that. By the way, who I am isn’t actually all that bad… if you get to know me. But I know I turn off a lot of people, so… 😉 Most of the time, I don’t bother anymore. I am what I am, and if you don’t like it, you can keep scrolling.

Anyway, part of me felt for Janis, because I’m sure that it’s especially irritating for her when people try to tell her what she can and can’t say or do. She’s an artist, and has made her living expressing herself beautifully through words and music. And she’s a person, first and foremost, so she should be allowed to post what she wants on her space without being taken to task by a random person. That part, I don’t disagree with at all. It was what happened next that caused me to pause for a moment.

In the wake of receiving the chastising response about using a potentially ageist euphemism, Janis issued a sharp retort to the person who commented, sarcastically “thanking” her for telling her how to express herself on her page. She added a bit more snark, which I thought was unnecessary, especially since Janis insists that people be respectful and civilized on her page. Being snarky and sarcastic, while certainly understandable, is not respectful. People don’t like hypocrisy or double standards.

A bunch of followers piled on, praising Janis for her thorny response. Some followers added more abuse to the poster who had chastised Janis for substituting the word “young” for “old”. It became very negative in a hurry. And then, Janis wrote an insulting second post that basically invited the first poster to have a look at Janis’s latest album cover and compare it to the poster’s profile, and then see who was aging better… (or something along those lines. Again, no screenshots, just memory). I thought that second post was completely hypocritical and unnecessary, even if I understood the irritation behind it. Janis Ian is human, as we all are. However, she is also a public figure, which gives her a certain power and platform that regular people don’t have. And if she’s going to insist on civility, she really ought to practice what she preaches. Otherwise, there’s a double standard.

I noticed a few posters were sticking up for the woman who had expressed her opinions to Janis. It was only two or three– one was a man, who made perfect sense to me, but was immediately accused of “mansplaining”. He wasn’t mansplaining, in my opinion. He made the valid point that Janis Ian, as a famous person, has more power than the average commenter has. The first woman had just made a random comment that might have been ill considered, but was basically harmless. Janis responded with venom, in spite of her policy that people be civil on her page. Then the few people who stuck up for the rando were piled upon by some of Janis Ian’s more rabid fans. That compounded the problem, and of course, was not civilized at all.

It was getting pretty nasty, and I was getting a bad feeling about it. I could see Janis’s point, but I could also understand the first woman’s comment. Yes, she probably should have just kept scrolling, but it’s Facebook, and people chime in with inappropriate stuff all the time. It’s usually best to take a breath and respond with kindness before snark and defensiveness. I’m not saying I always do that myself, but I’m not a public figure (in spite of what some of my blog commenters seem to think– this is NOT a popular blog). And I do usually try to be civilized, even if I fail sometimes.

I quit paying attention to the drama after a few minutes. What can I say? Dr. Phil circa 2014 was calling… So I clicked off of Janis Ian’s page, but had a brief discussion about what happened on my own page. One of my friends, who is in the music business, wrote that she had actually met Roberta Flack and found her to be a delightful lady. We bonded a bit about that, since I have some fond memories of Roberta’s music from my childhood. That’s one of my fond memories about my dad. He used to play her 1973 album Killing Me Softly, when I was really little. The songs stuck in my head until many years later, when I purchased it myself.

This song, especially… stuck in my head since about 1975 or so…

This morning, I woke up to find this post by Janis Ian. I guess I missed out on even more drama, because she ended up deleting the post that had prompted the post I saw this morning.

I hear you, Janis… but the other lady also had a point, though it was stated in a rather abrasive way. And when you responded with snark and sarcasm, you violated your own policy.

I commend Janis for asking her followers not to chime in with comments about how “great” she is, telling her she’s “right”, or personally attacking the other person or anyone who defends the other party. That doesn’t help. I appreciate that she took a moment to consider what happened and address it rationally with her followers. I think she’s sincere when she writes that she wants to encourage civility. She’s usually assertive when she insists that people “keep it clean”, but I notice that when you prick her, she bleeds, too. That just makes her human, as we all are. But there is no reason why that thread should have gotten as ugly as it did. It was a birthday wish, for God’s sake.

I think it probably would not have escalated if Janis had simply thanked the woman for following and commenting, and then, in an assertive way, explained that using “young” instead of “old” was not meant to be offensive to the elderly (if it really wasn’t, that is, which I am sure is the case). It was a simple birthday greeting to a legendary musician who has reached a grand age. And then Janis could have politely reminded the woman that it’s her page, and she would appreciate it people would allow her to express herself without unnecessary criticism. On the other hand, I completely understand why she was irritated. Nobody likes to have their words picked apart, especially by a perfect stranger. At the same time, it appears that both of these women were triggered for different reasons. I can relate to both of them. It happens to me all the time.

Anyway… it’s Saturday, and already past noon, so I think I will close this post and get on with the day. It can’t be easy to be famous, especially if you have an artistic personality. No wonder a lot of famous people have people to run their social media for them. I don’t envy that part of being well-known and successful at all. On the other hand, one thing I’ve learned is that you should never ask of others what you are, yourself, unwilling to do. That will only lead to trouble.

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narcissists, overly helpful people, psychology

“Spanx” for the psyche– when your friends and family members don psychological shapewear…

Almost a month ago, I wrote a blog post about manipulators who insist that they’re straightforward and honest. In that post, I wrote about how I’d seen a meme on social media that really spoke to me. I saved it, and three days later, was presented with a real life situation that pretty much described the wisdom of that truism someone shared on Facebook. I will repost it below for those who don’t want to read the older post.

So true…

Bill and I were talking about this subject again this morning over breakfast. It’s Veteran’s Day, and he’s a veteran, so he’s at home. I asked him if, looking back on his experiences with people who turned out to be toxic and manipulative, if they had started off trying to look like they were “above reproach.” He said they mostly had… and in fact, thought of a few people in my life who had acted that way at first, and then turned out to be controlling, manipulative, deceptive, and underhanded. It’s as if someone designed Spanx for the psyche, put them on, and then tried to sell it to the unsure.

You know what Spanx are, right? Spanx are foundation garments designed to make people appear to be thinner and more shapely than they actually are. While Spanx may make a person look more attractive by compressing and smoothing out those trouble spots, people who wear them are basically hiding their true selves. Just as today’s featured photo implies, that’s all well and good until it’s time to get more intimate. Then, the truth comes out, and you find out if your partner only loves you for the illusion of your “perfect” body instead of your personality.

I don’t think shapewear can help me. I am who I am, like it or not. Have you ever noticed that the people who model shapewear don’t actually need to wear it? I think they should get someone who looks like me to model their products. But I don’t want to do it myself… love me, love my fat rolls.

To be clear, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a person covering up their physical flaws if it makes them feel more comfortable with themselves. I do, however, think trouble starts when a person hides their authentic selves with “shapewear for the psyche”. That’s when a person behaves like someone they’re not for the purpose of shaping or manipulating your opinion of them. Then, when you realize who they really are, you find out you were duped. It’s like the person wore psychological Spanx to hide their unsightly ego bulges, sagging virtue, and flabby morals. The next thing you know, you’re wondering if you’re crazy or stupid. Surely this person is as good as they first seemed. You wonder if you’re the problem. But nope… they were just hiding their true selves in psychological shapewear, designed to trick people with an illusion.

This type of behavior is a form of “gaslighting“. According to Medical News Today:

Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where a person or group makes someone question their sanity, perception of reality, or memories. People experiencing gaslighting often feel confused, anxious, and unable to trust themselves.

A person who comes on strong, and tries hard to make a great first impression on you, is trying to shape your opinion of them. Then, when the behavior changes for the worse, as it always does, you will think back to that initial strong and positive first impression and be more likely to give them the benefit of the doubt. You will wonder if they’re just having a bad day. You will assume that someday, they’ll be that person with the warm, winsome personality who insisted that they are above reproach, and would never lie, cheat, steal, or do anything that isn’t for someone other than themselves. The reality is, they were never that person. They just wanted you to think they were. They want you to second guess yourself as you start to realize that they deceived you.

These folks are the ones who take it upon themselves to set a good example for others to follow. To give a recent and relevant example, there’s a woman I know casually who, when the pandemic was first in the news, made a point of posting pictures of herself wearing face masks while she was hanging out with her friends. She added a “PSA” of sorts about how important face masks are and– oh look!– she’s wearing one! Obviously, she was putting it out there that she’s a “caring” person, and you should try to emulate her. She sacrificed wearing lipstick so we could see her taking one for the team, dutifully wearing her face mask and being an example to all.

Later, I noticed that she deviated somewhat from that initial caring for the masses message she put out on her Facebook page. I got a taste of her control issues and the underhanded ways she tries to rope people in to doing her bidding. I realized that the first impression I got of her was just a facade. The reality is, she was wearing “Spanx for the psyche” and I had bought into that initial false image of her. I don’t think she’s a bad person, per se. I just think she tries to put forth an image that isn’t quite authentic or accurate. I find myself being more careful in my dealings with her.

Looking back, I can think of other people who made dynamite first impressions on me. I came away from meeting them thinking they were amazing. They were cordial, witty, charming, funny, and entertaining. Then, after awhile, the mask slipped, and I realized the first impression was just their version of a sales pitch. They were just trying to sell a false version of themselves so that when their real personality inevitably came out, I might cut them more of a break.

This phenomenon reminds me of that old joke about the man who visited Heaven and Hell to see where he’d like to spend eternity. Heaven is quiet, serene, beautiful, and comfortable. Hell looks like a raucous party, with sexy people having a blast with endless games. The man likes how Heaven looks, but ultimately chooses Hell, because it looks like it would be more fun. Then, when he shows up on this first day of eternity, he sees how miserable and awful Hell really is. He asks the demon who is showing him around what happened to the fun version of Hell he’d seen. The demon says, “Yesterday, we were recruiting you. Today, you’re committed.”

It’s easier in hindsight to acknowledge that sometimes people cover up who they really are. When you’re actually meeting them for the first time, it may not occur to you that they would be deceptive about their real selves. Most of us want to give people a chance, and try to see at least some good in others, especially when we first meet them. That’s kind of what our culture teaches us. If we let a negative impression cross our minds, we might hear the stern reproaches of someone from the past, chastising us for being “prejudicial”. However, I have found that that initial gut impression is often correct. There have been many times when I’ve regretted not heeding that impression. Because, once the more “intimate” part of a relationship begins, and the “Spanx for the psyche” is peeled off, the real ugliness sets in… and the person tries to sell that fake version of themselves again. I’m left wondering if I’m crazy or they’re just lying to me.

I’ve often discovered that people who need “psychological Spanx” also tend to be surface acquaintances. They aren’t interested in getting to know other people as much as they want some dirt on them so they can use it to their advantage at some point. Most of the fake people I’ve known are much more concerned about their reputations and images than they are in forming solid and honest relationships with other people. They’re more worried about how they look to others than they are in caring for friends and loved ones who have already committed to them. They don’t value deep relationships; they just want people to submit to their control tactics. Once someone is on the hook as a supporter, they aren’t going to go to the effort of covering up their flaws anymore. And if that’s not acceptable to you, the person who was duped, they’ll make it painful for you to object.

It’s kind of like when we first met our ex landlady. She tried hard to present herself as caring, understanding, and decent. But there were a number of signs that she was being deceptive. We chose to ignore them, even though I know I picked up on the signals from the first meeting. Her words and actions weren’t congruent. And later, after we heard many assurances from her about what a good and responsible person she is, she became the worst landlady we’ve ever had the displeasure of dealing with. Over the course of our relationship with her, she made a number of external improvements to the house, but they were mostly cosmetic and meant to make the house more appealing to people on the street. She couldn’t have cared less about the comfort and convenience of the people who actually lived in the house and paid rent to her. That’s why she replaced the driveway and put up a flimsy fence instead of replacing the weird toilet that repeatedly backed up and required her husband to give me a tutorial. That’s also why she didn’t get rid of the disgusting carpet that reeked of cat piss. People on the street can’t see those things and don’t have to deal with them. But tenants have a contract, and are subjected to seeing her as she really is when things go wrong.

I have also seen how these types of people, when they have a commitment with others in their lives, feel free to mistreat them. I always pity people who are born to manipulative liars. It’s much easier to get away from someone who is a not a close blood relative. When it’s your parent or sibling, the stakes are much higher, and people tend to tolerate their bad behavior for longer. Then, when they can’t take it anymore, other people judge them for escaping the clutches of their tormentors. More often than not, the judgmental folks have only seen the charming, appealing, “psychological Spanx” wearing versions of the relative who is being abusive. They haven’t see them when the Spanx come off and the person lets everything unattractive about their true selves hang out.

Now… I’m not saying that it’s wrong for a person to try to make a good first impression. To some extent, most of us try to do that. What I am saying is that when a person tries too hard, or, when you first meet them, they insist that they’re “good, honest people” who never have problems with others, that’s a red flag. Nine times out of ten, they’re going to turn out to be the opposite of what they claimed to be. Or, at the very least, you’re going to find out that they aren’t authentic.

Authentic people don’t have to tell you how good they are. It shows in the honest way they behave and how they relate to other people. They don’t need “psychological Spanx”, because their personalities are naturally attractive. It’s possible to meet someone who is lovely and that’s who they really are. Usually, those types of people don’t give you a bad feeling. You don’t have that little voice in your head, warning you. The authentically good people don’t need to bowl you over with charm. They have no need to impress. They’re just good people who are real. No psychological Spanx or shapewear required.

Standard
condescending twatbags, language, overly helpful people, social media

No, I’m not gonna get on the word “ban-wagon”…

In May of 2013, Bill and I were sitting at a train station in Venice, Italy. We were waiting to catch our ride to Florence on Italo, a then brand new private Italian train company. As we were waiting, we heard an announcement in Italian about a train that was significantly delayed. The pre-recorded announcement did not use the word “delay”. Instead, it included an Italian incarnation of the word “retard”, used as an adjective.

Bill turned to me and said, “Now you see… there’s an instance in which the word “retard” is used in a completely non-offensive way.”

I have never forgotten that conversation, especially as more and more “woke” types feel the need to outright ban certain words from the English language. I am all for avoiding deliberately insulting others, especially those who suffer from any kind of intellectual disabilities that are beyond their control.

However, as I realized when we were at the train station in Italy, words have many nuances, usages, and definitions. Some words are inherently offensive, and almost always used in a hurtful way. And sometimes, people deliberately take offense at the use of a “taboo” word when absolutely no harm is intended. That causes problems that could just as easily be avoided if the person would simply be more mature and stop being willfully ignorant.

It’s been many years since I last used the word “retard” in the taboo way, although I will admit that in the 1980s, it was a word that was flung around on playgrounds and school busses with the greatest of ease. It was also used in plenty of 70s and 80s era comedies, both on television and in the movies. I can think of two films off the top of my head– very popular movies that still remain popular today–in which characters use the word “retard” as an insult.

Today, those films would probably not be made with the word “retard” used as an insult, although I would not be surprised if some incarnation of the word “douche” was used in its place. Personally, I find the word “douche” offensive for several reasons, but I’m not campaigning to have it banned. In many cultures, the word “douche” just means “shower”, and is perfectly useful and non-offensive. So rather than trying to get the word “douche” banned, I simply avoid using it myself.

As a lover of language, I can’t quite bring myself to jump on the “ban-wagon” when it comes to any word, even the ones that can start riots. I never think of words as things that should ever be banned, even when they are deemed very “offensive”. Instead, I am more concerned about context and the attitude behind the use of language. And yes, that means that I think words that people routinely campaign to have struck from the language are sometimes acceptable to use in certain contexts. To avoid being offended, it’s up to people to grow up and not be deliberately obtuse. Otherwise, they’re doomed to stay butthurt.

This morning, someone shared the below post on Facebook. If I had already had my coffee, I probably would have just rolled my eyes and ignored it. But instead, I left a response. Basically, I wrote that the word “retard” is only a slur if it’s used as an insult. There are other ways to use it that are totally neutral.

I knew I might regret leaving that comment, but the friend who shared this is usually a very understanding person. I figured she’d get what I mean. Besides, while I understand people being aggravated by insulting, demeaning language, I am aggravated by people who presume to tell me what I can or cannot say or write.

I think people should be responsible for their own use of language; most of them don’t need the language police to remind them to be “politically correct”. Frankly, I’m fed up with people who use social media as a place for that kind of soap box activism, particularly when all they’ve done is shared someone else’s viral post. Facebook was originally supposed to be fun, wasn’t it?

No, thank you, I won’t be teaching anyone that the word “retard” is worse than the word “fuck”. That’s someone’s “absolutely ridiculous” opinion… at least in MY opinion. I still get to have one, right?

Sure enough, it wasn’t long before someone came along and tried to school me about how the word “retard” is never acceptable. This person wrote that it’s no longer used by professionals and it’s outdated, etcetera, etcetera.

My response– simply because I was feeling stubborn and my verbal restraint reflex was somewhat “retarded”– was that yes, in fact, sometimes the word “retard” is perfectly acceptable and unoffensive. That word has other meanings besides the insulting one. The word “retard”, when used as a verb, means “to slow or delay”. That was how it was used at the train station in Italy. No one got offended when it was used in that way. I can think of other ways the word “retard” can be used that shouldn’t cause offense to anyone.

The person who challenged me came back and posted that she’s got autism. Actually, I believe she wrote that she’s “autistic”, and has an “autistic” child. I was a little surprised that she put it that way, since I thought the emphasis was supposed to be on the person rather than the condition. Like– I thought it was more politically correct to say, “I have autism” rather than “I’m autistic.” But I am not in that world, so I don’t know, and I wouldn’t presume to tell someone who is in that world how they should refer to themselves.

Besides, I don’t think of autism as something inherently good or bad. My husband’s older daughter is supposedly on the spectrum, but we know she is a brilliant artist and she’s proven that there’s nothing wrong with her intellect. I don’t know if she’s sorry she has autism. She no longer speaks to Bill. But, based on what I know about her, she’s got plenty of things going for her besides the condition of autism.

I responded to my friend’s friend that I was sorry that people have used the word “retard” in an offensive way, and that she is offended by its use. But I am not going to be told that I can’t use a word that I know is perfectly acceptable in many situations, simply because some group says it’s “offensive”, in and of itself. That’s wrong.

The challenger then asked me to use the word “retard” in an unoffensive way. So I wrote something along the lines of, “I see no reason to retard the development of languages by banning specific words.”

She then wrote that my answer was “stupid”. There was more to her comment, but I quit reading, because she made it clear that respectful communication and education weren’t her goals. Instead, it appeared that she wanted to disparage my intellect by referring to my answer as “stupid”. That’s brilliant, isn’t it? I guess she didn’t see the irony. She’s lecturing me about not ever using the word “retard” because it’s disrespectful and hurtful, but then she uses the word “stupid” to describe my comment and, based on her perceived tone, my intellect.

I truly didn’t want to get into a pissing match with this person, since I don’t know her and she doesn’t know me. If she did know me, she might be surprised by how “not stupid” I am, at least compared to the average person. Even if she did still think I’m stupid after meeting me, that would obviously be her uninformed and incorrect opinion.

I realized, however, that my time would probably be wasted trying to continue the conversation. As I didn’t want to get into a legitimate argument, I wrote “So now you are insulting me. That’s very nice. Have a good day.”

Normally, when a person writes “Have a good day.”, that means they’re done with the discussion and are politely trying to bow out. I figure that’s a more respectful way of leaving the conversation than telling them to “fuck off” is. But, as this person says she has autism, I guess she didn’t pick up on the social cue. She came back and wrote, “Feeling insulted, huh?” then continued with more insults…

I guess, if I were going to assign an emotion to how I felt about her response, it would be “annoyed” or maybe “puzzled”. It does seem strange to be preached at by a stranger about not offending people with intellectual disabilities by calling them “retarded” (which I never did), and then, in the next breath, having that same person refer to my comment as “stupid”.

If I had written that I thought her comment was “retarded”, what would her response be? Isn’t “stupid” just as offensive as “retarded”? At least the word “retard”, even when used an insulting way, indicates a medical condition that a person can’t help. Stupid just means a person or thing is dull-witted and unintelligent, whether or not they can help being that way. I can’t think of many ways the word “stupid” could be used that isn’t negative.

I wrote something akin to, “No, I’m not ‘feeling insulted’. You’re being hypocritical, and I have other things to do. So kindly enjoy your day, and I will continue to speak and write as I please.” I truly wasn’t “insulted” by her comment, because I would have to care about her opinion to be insulted by it. But I will admit to being annoyed by her comments and her erroneous presumptions about me. Especially, since I truly didn’t attempt to insult her.

Then she wrote some sarcastic remark about how I can keep “offending” people with special needs, but at that point, I used my block button. Because I do actually have better things to do with my time today than argue with a perfect stranger about my vocabulary. Hell, cleaning the lint out of my belly button would be a better use of my time than continuing that unproductive discussion with someone whose mind is currently closed. She obviously didn’t see my point, and wasn’t going to try to see it. Instead, she was hellbent on “winning” the argument, and doing so in a disrespectful, non-empathic way. Still, she failed to convince me, so I guess she can keep fighting the good fight with someone else.

Some people might point out that I probably “asked” for this unpleasant exchange. I would agree with them that it’s mostly pointless to point out these kinds of language discrepancies among friends. A person who would share an image like the one above probably has strong feelings about the subject matter, but hasn’t thought very long and hard about them, and is just looking for likes and loves, rather than actual commentary.

On the other hand, I do get annoyed when some busybody presumes to correct my language. I’m an adult, and fully responsible for what I say and do. If I say something egregiously obnoxious or offensive, it may be appropriate to call me out for that. But I don’t really need my friends to pre-emptively instruct me on the proper way to use language.

Moreover, I think my opinions matter as much as anyone else’s do. I’ve spent my life being told that my thoughts and feelings don’t matter, so I tend to be strong-willed and argumentative about these things, now that I am an adult. I realize it’s hard to be assertive about such things without still inadvertently offending people. Such is life.

I do get irritated when people try to tell me how I’m feeling or what I’m thinking. I think it’s disrespectful to try to read people’s minds, especially when they’re strangers. Maybe I would be happier if I just “let it go”, but I think that people who are able to do that often don’t think about much more other than what’s right in front of them.

Either that, or they’re like that Japanese monk Bill and I ran into a few years ago, who just radiated peace, serenity, and calmness. I have seen very few people like that in my lifetime. I would actually LOVE to be like that monk… although I realize I am ASSUMING he is actually as calm as he appeared. For all I know, he’s got a hot temper.

Perhaps today I will go out of my way to use the word “retard” in non-offensive ways. Of course, around here, most people speak German and don’t speak to me, anyway, so that effort might be lost on them. Also… when it comes to grammar policing, all bets are off.

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book reviews, family, mental health, overly helpful people, psychology

Repost: A review of When Difficult Relatives Happen to Good People…

I originally wrote this review for Epinions in 2006. I am reposting it here as/is. I had reposted it on the original version of this blog, but that post included a time sensitive anecdote that is no longer relevant. So here’s the review on its own, as it was originally written fifteen years ago. Maybe this book is still as helpful as I found it back then.

I realize that since the holidays of 2005 have already passed, this review of Dr. Leonard Felder’s 2003 self help book When Difficult Relatives Happen to Good People: Surviving Your Family and Keeping Your Sanity might be a tad tardy. On the other hand, the month of January has always seemed to me to be a time custom made for personal change. With the idea of personal change in mind, consider the following questions. Do your relatives make you crazy at family gatherings? Do they harangue you about the way you look, your job, your marital status, or your place in life? Do you find it unbearable to spend more than a few hours with your family? Do you feel like you’re out of the loop when it comes to important family decisions? Do you dread the holidays because it means you’ll be expected to hang around your family for long periods of time? If you can answer yes to one or more of these questions, Dr. Felder’s book might be a big help to you.

Dr. Leonard Felder is a Los Angeles based licensed psychologist and co-author of another family oriented book, Making Peace With Your Parents. I had never heard of Dr. Felder prior to finding this book, but he’s appeared on Oprah, CNN, CBS’ The Early Show, NBC News, A.M. Canada, National Public Radio, and ABC Talkradio. I discovered When Difficult Relatives Happen to Good People quite by accident. I got an email from Barnes and Noble alerting me to a large post holiday sale. I’m a sucker for sales and I’m always looking for new books. I managed to pick up a brand new hardcover copy of this book for about $4. Considering the fact that I’m a public health social worker by training and someone who has a hard time hanging around my own family, I figured it would be a fine addition to my personal library. Having just read When Difficult Relatives Happen to Good People, I can understand why Felder is so popular. He has an easy to understand, conversational writing style that I found easy to relate to. He also offers advice that is both easy to follow and practical, while still reminding his readers that they can’t control other peoples’ thoughts or emotions, but they can control how they react when relatives start to pluck their nerves.

Dr. Felder uses interesting and realistic scenarios to get his point across to his readers. I often found myself nodding my head as I recognized some of the situations that I’ve found myself in when I’ve dealt with my family. For example, I have three older sisters who are driven career women. All three of my sisters keep themselves looking beautiful and polished most of the time, as they pursue their lofty professional goals. I’ve often caught a lot of grief from my family because I’m more of a housewife than a career woman.

I work as a freelance writer on an occasional basis. I’m more comfortable in sweats with my face unpainted and my hair unstyled. My lifestyle works for me and my husband, Bill, but that doesn’t always stop my family members from harassing me about the fact that I’m not like them. Consequently, I often find myself avoiding family get-togethers and hating every minute of them when I can’t avoid them. I love each individual member of my family, but not when we’re all together and personalities start to clash. Dr. Felder offers constructive ideas on what to do if you have a sister who is narcissistic and obnoxious, or a father who gets on your case about your employment status, or a mother who picks on you about your weight. He also offers assurance that family troubles are not unusual. There’s no reason to feel like a freak because you can’t get along with the people who created you. It happens to a lot of people. Dr. Felder’s book offers hope and a chance to make those visits with family more bearable and constructive.

One thing I did notice about When Difficult Relatives Happen to Good People is that it does seem a little bit skewed toward those of the Jewish faith (which I am not). Dr. Felder is himself a Reform Jew, so he sometimes uses examples that will be more familiar to those who share his religious preference. However, I will note that Felder is careful to explain whenever he includes a cultural term with which his audience may not be familiar. For instance, when he uses a Yiddish term like mensch, he explains to his readers who may be unfamiliar with the term that mensch is a Yiddish word for “good person”. Felder’s explanations make the book accessible to everyone, but they also reveal that the book is slightly bent toward people of a certain culture. It’s only natural, though, that writers tend to write best when they focus on writing about what they know; Judaism is certainly something about which Dr. Felder knows.

When Difficult Relatives Happen to Good People is divided into ten chapters that are dedicated to certain common issues. For example, Felder devotes whole chapters on dealing with religious disagreements, family battles about food, weight, clothes, and appearance, getting past drugs, alcohol, and other addictive behaviors, and relatives who are just plain intolerant. At the end of the book, there’s an appendix as well as a list of suggested reading and sources. I was happy to see that Dr. Felder suggested a book that I read and reviewed last year on Epinions.com, Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood inside the Fortress by Mary Edwards Wertsch— an excellent book for people who have family in the military.

The 2005 holiday season is now a memory. If you’re currently breathing a sigh of relief that the holidays are over because you found hanging out with your family stressful this past year, I urge you to read Dr. Leonard Felder’s book, When Difficult Relatives Happen to Good People. Even if none of the scenarios in this book apply to you, you may find yourself comforted at least in the knowledge that you’re not alone. There’s no need to feel badly just because your family makes you crazy. As Dr. Felder points out in his book’s title, it happens to the very best of people.

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condescending twatbags, healthcare, overly helpful people

Asshole detectors…

Yesterday, I read an article on The Atlantic entitled “Are Outdoor Mask Mandates Still Necessary?” Written by Derek Thompson, this piece was exactly what it sounds like… an article about whether or not people should be forced to wear face masks when they are outside. Here in Germany, we aren’t obligated to wear a mask outdoors if we can “socially distance”. I have noticed that despite the rather anal retentive and uptight rule following stereotype that seems to dog the German people, folks here are not too jazzed about wearing masks 24/7. I never see people wearing them when I’m walking my dogs through the neighborhood, although people do wear them at bus stops because it’s required.

Thompson included statements from respected public health experts from around the world, explaining why the zero tolerance/100% enforcement attitude could backfire in getting people to comply with the rules. Thompson wrote:

Requiring that people always wear masks when they leave home, and especially in places with low levels of viral transmission, is overkill. As mentioned, the coronavirus disperses outside, posing little risk to people who are walking alone or even swiftly passing by strangers. In fact, almost all of the documented cases of outdoor transmission have involved long conversations, or face-to-face yelling. The risk calculation changes if you’re standing in a crowd: Some uneven evidence suggests that the Black Lives Matter protests last summer increased local infections. But that’s an easy carve-out. States can end blanket mandates and still recommend outdoor masking by anyone experiencing symptoms, or in crowds. (Extended conversations pose their own risk, but when people are vaccinated, the odds of viral transmission are probably somewhere between microscopic and nonexistent.)

Outdoor mask mandates might also turn people off from obeying better rules. “Given the very low risk of transmission outdoors, I think outdoor mask use, from a public-health perspective, seems arbitrary,” Muge Cevik, an infectious-disease and virology expert at the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland, told The Washington Post. “I think it affects the public’s trust and willingness to engage in much higher-yield interventions. We want people to be much more vigilant in indoor spaces.”

Makes sense to me. If I’m alone in the woods or swiftly passing someone on my walking route, I don’t think wearing a mask is as important as it would be if I was in a huge crowd of people who are shouting. Also, there are quite a lot of people who just plain resent being “nannied” and “nagged” by others. If we let people exercise their free will in less risky areas, they may be more willing to cooperate when they’re indoors. And yes, to me, it makes more sense to wear a mask when indoors with strangers than it does out on the street, when you can be far enough away from people not to risk sharing germs.

Thompson continues:

Julia Marcus, an epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School, spoke with several male mask skeptics last year for a piece in The Atlantic. When she explained that masking wasn’t as important outdoors, the men became more amenable to wearing them indoors. By connecting rules to reasons, she got them to see the value of covering their nose and mouth when it actually mattered. Last week, Marcus told me that she’s baffled by the notion that the best way to get people to wear masks inside is to mandate that everybody wear one when they’re alone outside. “We don’t recommend condom use when people are enjoying themselves alone to get them to wear condoms with their sexual partners,” she said.

The argument that outdoor mask mandates create a warm and fuzzy feeling of social solidarity confuses a personal definition of etiquette (“I think my mask makes everybody feel safe”) with a public defense of population-wide laws (“everybody should wear a mask everywhere, because it’s the only way to make everybody feel safe). Masks send all sorts of messages to all sorts of different people. To some, they’re beacons of safety; to others, they’re signs of imperious government overreach. As Marcus argued, mandating a public-health tool that’s not needed can drive away people who might otherwise be on board with more important interventions. “I think there’s a proportion of the population that believes restrictions will last indefinitely,” Marcus said, “and they are probably one of the hardest groups to keep engaged in public-health efforts.”

And I also liked that Thompson considered that not everyone has the same reality. A lot of people– myself included– are lucky enough to have backyards or balconies. But many more people are not so fortunate. In our previous house, we lived next to a large naturepark. But we didn’t have balconies or a yard with a functional fence, where we could let the dogs out free. The fence at our last house was more of a decoration, and would not have allowed us to safely sit outside with the dogs untethered. I know a lot of other people in Germany simply live in flats with no private spaces at all. As Thompson says:

Finally, mandating outdoor masks and closing public areas makes a show of “taking the virus seriously” while doing nothing to reduce indoor spread, in a way that often hurts the less fortunate. To deal with its COVID-19 spike, for example, the Canadian province of Ontario instituted a stay-at-home order and closed many parks and playgrounds. “These policies are made by people who have yards,” Marcus said. “If you live in an apartment building and have no yard, and are required to wear masks at all times outdoors, you never get to be maskless outside. And then, where do people gather maskless to socialize? Inside their homes”—where the risk of transmission is higher.

I thought Thompson’s article was fair and balanced, and the information within it was reasonable. I especially appreciated the comments from Julia Marcus, who came right out and said that there are people (like me) who worry that the mask mandates will turn into an indefinite rule. Allowing for some easing of the rules outside gives people hope that we won’t have to tolerate these rules forever, and that will make it easier to keep being vigilant. A lot of us just PLAIN don’t want to live this way for the rest of our lives, and we resent other people insisting that this is the way it HAS to be from now on. The fact is, many people feel that this is NOT how it should be. We should be working hard on a solution that makes mask wearing obsolete for most people. Or, at least that’s my opinion… but it seems like more and more people, especially in the United States, feel like only one opinion is the correct one. Anyone who disagrees is automatically an “asshole.”

One thing I take comfort in, at least here in Germany, is that it’s pretty obvious to me that people here are not going to accept being forced to wear face masks forever. In fact, I have noticed that even rule loving Germans are starting to rebel. There have been more protests lately, especially as Angela Merkel has pressed for stricter lockdowns. People are really getting tired of the crisis and they’re becoming more apathetic and lax.

I know there are people in some countries that are forced to wear veils whenever they are outside, but the rest of the world isn’t the Islamic world, where those kinds of oppressive rules are okay. And Thompson then ends with this uplifting conclusion:

Hyper-neuroticism is a mitzvah during a pandemic. But we really don’t have to live like this forever, and it’s okay for more people to say so. We can learn to look at a well-populated beach and not see a gross failure of human morality. We can see somebody unmasked in a park and not think, I guess that one doesn’t believe in science. We can walk down an uncrowded street with a mask, or without a mask, or with a mask sort of hanging from our chin, and just not really worry about it. We can reduce unnecessary private anxiety and unhelpful public shame by thinking for a few seconds about how the coronavirus actually works and how to finally end the pandemic. Let’s tell people the truth and trust that they can take it. Let’s plan for the end of outdoor mask mandates.

BRAVO! And let that be the FIRST step in eventually ending ALL mask mandates, because COVID-19 will be under control, like most infectious diseases usually become after time passes and science advances. Or, at least that’s what I think we should be aiming for. That’s what makes the masks different from seatbelts, which I don’t think we’ll ever get rid of, at least in my lifetime.

I felt pretty good as I read Derek Thompson’s article. But as I finished reading about how there’s a weird dichotomy between hyper-neurotic mask police types and vehement anti-maskers, I had sinking feeling that there would be tons of comments left on the magazine’s Facebook page. Sure enough, I was right. So many people, clearly folks who didn’t bother to read, left comments regarding this article. And one person wrote that non-maskers are his personal form of an “asshole detector”. Behold:

At this point I think of them less as masks and more as asshole detectors. Even if the chances are small, it’s the very least you can do for your fellow man. How damned privileged is our society that this is a hot button issue? If it happens to save even a few extra lives, it’s worth it. Buck up buttercups.

Seriously, dude? I think YOU are an asshole for taking this attitude toward your fellow man, especially as you pat yourself on the back for being so “considerate” as you judge people you don’t even know. And I think people who comment on things they haven’t read are assholes, adding unnecessary and uninformed noise that everybody else has to wade through.

and…

I live in southern Georgia and literally no one wears masks in stores, etc. All asshole behavior. I literally got into a verbal argument with a man that refused to stand on the 6 ft marker on floor in grocery store check out line. No mask. Even the clerk was like, “Sir, stand back!” It’s like the non-maskers get off on being a bully.

Why get in an argument with someone? Just get away from them. Arguing with a stranger is “asshole behavior” too, isn’t it?

There were more comments like that, along with the usual chorus of people writing things like “just wear the damn mask”, which I find pretty offensive, myself. I don’t think it helps compliance when you swear at people. In fact, people who swear at perfect strangers are probably assholes, right? I actually feel like telling them to go fuck themselves, but because I’m a lady, I don’t do that. 😉 Instead, I just think it to myself… and if I get angry enough, I vent about it in my blog.

I mean, I do wear a mask if I have to. But I go out of my way not to be in situations where I have to wear a mask, or deal with assholes who take it upon themselves to determine what perfect strangers are or are not doing as “asshole detectors”. Here’s one that made me laugh…

But it doesn’t matter. Wear the mask. It’s not an inconvenience in any way. It’s the least difficult thing that has ever been asked of us to do collectively. Articles like this only lend credence to selfish, broken people. Wear the mask until the pandemic is over. Simple. And until then, STFU.

Dude… to some people, it truly IS an inconvenience. You may not think it is, but they do– and they get an opinion and a vote, too! And telling someone to STFU, sorry, is also “asshole behavior”. You don’t get to tell people to STFU, simply because you claim to agree with the opinions of “experts” and you assume they don’t. There are all kinds of people out there who really are experts, and most of them have more balanced, fair, informed, and sensible opinions than yours. This lady had a sensible comment, in my opinion…

As a biologist, I can confirm that masking while outside was only suggested if you would be less than six feet from others (the transmission distance for errant coughs, sneezes or loud talking); it was never required by science to mask all the time outside. I carry or wear it and put up/on as I approach others on a path etc. ps I would warn against dining inside until one is vaccinated: the author’s point about the indoors being highest risk is valid.

And this guy also has reasonable thoughts, in my view…

I agree with this. The problem with outdoor mask mandates with fines for noncompliance is it becomes something law enforcement can selectively enforce. Look at what Miami was doing. They passed an ordinance that said everyone had to wear a mask at all times indoors or outdoors even when social distancing is possible. Miami police basically set up mask traps and stood outside supermarkets just waiting for people to come out of the store and take the mask off or wear it under their nose so they could ticket them. A woman was walking through an empty parking lot without a mask and was ticketed. Someone was in a barbershop and pulled his mask down for a few seconds to take a drink of water and a police officer happened to be walking by and that person was ticketed. I think a reasonable person would agree that this enforcement was overreach. I get the seriousness of the virus, but you have to give people a little breathing room. If a person is walking in an empty parking lot or on a back residential street and is not wearing a mask, but has a mask with them in case he or she comes to a situation where he or she can’t socially distance, then I don’t see the problem.

Sounds to me like Miami has found a great way to fill its coffers by oppressively fining people over mask wearing. Glad I don’t live there, especially as hot as it gets.

It baffles me that so many people have gone to such extremes on this issue. It should be perfectly okay to hate wearing a face mask. It should be okay to say it out loud, and hope for the mandates to end at some point. It should be alright to expect and fervently hope that we’ll get to a point at which this nightmare is either ended or mitigated. Otherwise, why go on living? I HATE living this way, and I don’t have it as bad as a whole lot of people do. Telling people that they don’t have the right to their feelings is toxic, and labeling them as “assholes” because you make assumptions about their character based on their masking habits is extremely limiting and offensive. Obviously, people who feel this way about other people are assholes themselves. Are there really people out there who think the whole world should be expected to accept living like this from now on? It blows my mind! As long as people are complying, what’s it to you, anyway?

I particularly love it when people compare mask wearing to wearing a seatbelt, or they compare going outside maskless with drunk or reckless driving. It’s absolute lunacy. I think, if seeing someone’s bare face outside in a sparsely populated area makes you compare them to drunk drivers or reckless people, you should simply do your best to avoid them. That’s what I do when I see someone on the road who drives erratically. I let them go ahead and get away from them. I don’t fan the flames by flipping them off or cursing at them through my window. Doing that in Germany can get you a pretty stiff fine, actually. It’s against the law to insult people or shoot the bird at them. Seems like doing one’s best to avoid problems is the better way to get through life. But… that’s just me.

Sigh… I really think Derek Thompson’s article is a good one. It gave me hope to read it. And, if people had taken the time to read it, they’d find that he consulted “experts” before he shared his thoughts. He’s quoted a Harvard educated epidemiologist, for Christ’s sakes, yet so many people feel the need to claim that Thompson is being “irresponsible” by giving people hope that things will get better! I would certainly listen to Julia Marcus of Harvard Medical School talking about COVID-19 and mask wearing than I would some jerk commenting on The Atlantic’s Facebook page.

Anyway… if you read all of this blog post and don’t think it’s an “asshole detector”, I thank you. I really think these hyper-vigilant, hyper-neurotic, nagging mask cheerleaders are how we wind up with right wing nutjobs like Marjorie Taylor Greene and straight up narcissistic creeps like Donald Trump in charge. There needs to be balance in all things… and that includes mask mandates. But maybe I’m just an asshole who needs to STFU. If you honestly think that about me, I hope you will take it as a cue to find someone else’s blog to read. 😉

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