What I’m NOT Doing between Now and November

Lately, a lot of my friends and other contacts have been publicly inviting people who disagree with their choice of candidates, platforms, or political parties to “unfriend me now!” I can empathize with what prompts such declarations. You get tired of being called ignorant, or sheep, or whatever, by people you thought cared for you, and who you care(d) about. Or you get tired of those one or two people who sniff out any tiny whiff of partisanship on your part and then blast your friends with the tenacity of a dog with a bone.

Let me tell you ONE more time why I think you’re wrong…gnaw gnaw. Image by @9_fingers_ via Twenty20

Now, I have some pretty strong beliefs on political, social, and religious grounds, and I am not ashamed of them, so I’m not going to succumb to fear and never be who I am in social media. If they come and round me up later for expressing my beliefs, well, I will have led a good and consistent life, and I’ll deal with the consequences.

I don’t think it’s helping one bit to egg people on and act like the stereotype you’re trying to deny you’re a part of, though. So, here’s what I plan to do between now and the beginning of November, which is a big election time in the US (some of you may not know; the US isn’t the most important place for everyone on earth, I’m told).

I’m also going to spend a lot more time looking at nature, like this extra cool Apache jumping spider.

I’m not going to remove from my social media accounts all my friends, coworkers, business contacts, and family members who express their affiliation with a different candidate than the one I favor. Believe it or not, I find that I do have other things in common with them, or like them for other reasons. It’s possible if your mindset isn’t that, “Every Party X member is a doofus.” (I will point out that yes, some Party X members are doofuses; some party Y and Z members are ALSO doofuses.)

Right? Image by  @desteniev via Twenty20.

I will “snooze” some folks on Facebook if something they say upsets me, but I won’t un-follow, unfriend, or whatever, unless someone comes across as genuinely dangerous or unhinged. So, yeah, if you threaten to kill me or people I love, I might put some distance between us. That’s just common sense.

I’m not going to waste my breath and time trying to “educate” or chastise people who say things I disagree with or find mildly offensive in response to comments on other people’s Facebook posts, tweets, or Instagrams. I have learned that’s how you (along wity people like yourself) earn bad reputations with other groups. I see it enough in comments on my own posts, and know how damned hard it can be not to respond (I do fail at times). Just go vote, folks, and realize most others have already made up their minds.

A good plan. Image by @MargJohnsonVA via Twenty20

If I share memes, I’m going to try to make it the constructive and encouraging kind, not the kind that puts down others. I have friends who share some real doozies that I enjoy, because I’m human, but every time I’ve even slightly hinted that some other bunch of folks might not have the right idea about something, I end up feeling bad about doing it. I guess I’m pretty firm that passive-aggressive memes serve more to make the person sharing them look bad than to shame the intended audience.

Slightly off topic, but hey, it’s my blog:

Honestly, I don’t need any help to know I’ve been a bad friend or done some things I shouldn’t have that won’t be forgiven or forgotten. I’m trying to forgive my own dang self and learn from the mistakes, so rubbing my nose in it just makes me resentful, not a better person. I wonder if all the nameless people so many accusatory memes are aimed at feel that way, too, if they see themselves in the words, of course. Targeted memes (personal or political) probably mostly miss the intended audience.

Also off topic: I did finally get a photo of the green heron!

Back on track

Anyway, another thing I’m going to do in social media and in person between now and November is be friendly to everybody I run across. I can find something neutral or positive to talk to just about anyone about, and that is what helps us all remember there’s good in everyone. Engaging with the people around me is one concrete thing I can do to help heal the divisiveness and partisan negativity we seem so mired in these days.

We’re all just chickens, say Springsteen and Patty.

I know I’m not alone in seeing people as fellow humans first, and labels second. It’s easy to disparage a faceless group, but one on one, it’s a lot harder. I am glad to have people around me who are great role models in this way of interacting, and yes, some of the best ones do not agree with all of my political and social views. When I’m feeling frustrated, I think of all the hard-working and thoughtful people I know who are trying to make the world better by working with each other. Thanks to everyone who helps with that!

How about you, are you up for trying any of the things I’m going to try to do for the next couple of months? If you’re not, what is your plan for dealing with the challenges of the pre-election period? What’s working for you?

Let’s talk!

What Are You Trying to Say?

Sometimes I’m really grateful for blog comments, because they can get me thinking about things that are important to me. Recently, a comment was shared by Edith on my May 6 Toxic Negativity post. In addition to some lovely personal sharing, she made this point:

 I’d be interested to hear more about what you get out of communication as well, because I believe most people do it to exchange and amplify emotions they wish to experience whereas while I do enjoy exchanging wanted emotions I mostly want to exchange ideas so sometimes I bring up something negative because I want to solve it, without realizing that not all problems are solvable and that not chewing on it might be better. 

Blog comment, July 30, 2020

This is the kind of topic a person with my background in linguistics and pragmatics lives for. What Edith’s wanting to know about is not what the things I say mean (semantics) but what I’m trying to do with my words (pragmatics). Guess what leads to confusion and mis-communication? When you say something with one intent, and your communication partner interprets it another way.

Here’s an example:

Me: There’s Alfred hair all over the floor.
Lee: Hey, I’ve been doing the books all day – I don’t have time to sweep.

So, maybe I was just noticing that the hair is there, not judging Lee’s housekeeping skills. Or, maybe I was thinking I should be doing some sweeping. Or maybe I was actually judging Lee. How to tell?

Alfred DOES shed a lot.

Well, if we were talking in person, Lee could tell by my tone of voice (stern, teasing, surprised), or he could see by my actions that I was heading to get a broom or crossing my arms in irritation. Those are among the many ways we can infer motivation to other people’s speech.

One method of communication we aren’t using so much these days. Photo by @Nodar via Twenty20

But these days, a lot of our communication comes via text, Twitter, Facebook comments, messenger app, or email. We lack a lot of those tone of voice and mannerisms tools for conveying additional meaning. We do have ALL CAPS and emojis, of course. But you can easily see how it can be a lot harder to figure out what someone is actually trying to convey outside the literal words they’ve typed.

I’m pretty sure Edith has been reading a lot of emotion-charged content lately, especially on Facebook/Twitter, etc. I see a LOT of content that repeats time-worn phrases or buzzwords that do seem to me that they aren’t intent on conveying information, but rather to vent, convey frustration, state which “team” they are on or show their disapproval of others. I even see them getting irritated when folks want to talk about what they actually SAY.

Yep, sometimes technology obscures intended meaning. Image by @Mehaniq via Twenty20

In fact, I often see that when people are genuinely wanting information, they specifically say so. They’ll say, “I really want to know,” or something like it. So, it seems to me that a lot of us are interpreting things we read and even hear as just folks blowing off steam.

That’s great unless you’re someone like Edith, who doesn’t work that way, and really just wants to respond to what the words are saying, not underlying implications.

What to Do?

Well, one thing that helps is to ignore people who just seem to be blowing off steam. They don’t really want to exchange ideas, information, or heaven forbid, facts/evidence.

If you think someone may actually want to be conveying information or getting your input, though, you can always try my favorite from back when I helped mothers breastfeed, “active listening.” It includes the technique where you paraphrase what you think the other person is trying to say, and get confirmation or clarification. You say something like, “What I hear you saying is X; is that right?” and the person either confirms or explains. (Summarizing, below)

Thanks to Education Corner for the graphic.

While this can get annoying REAL fast if you repeat it throughout a conversation, used sparingly it can head off those occasions where you get ten minutes into a heated discussion only to realize you were talking about different things.

You can always try the reflecting part of active listening, “When you say X, it makes me feel Y,” which is supposed to be better than blaming, name-calling, or labeling (for example, “That was stupid”). The idea is that you’re pointing out that the words are the problem, not the person saying them. This is another technique that can easily backfire (So, don’t say, “When you say those Confederate statues are your beloved heritage, it makes me feel like you don’t think black lives matter,” because that conversation will turn ugly very quickly.)

This takes me back to the first option, which is ignoring stuff you know isn’t really about exchanging information. Occasionally, with people I know or am related to, I will ask if they really want to start a conversation about Topic X, because I actually do know something about it and can share information. There have been times where one of us learns something that affects our feelings one way or another or gets us to re-evaluate and think about the topic based on new evidence, which is the goal of a good discussion, isn’t it? (That is opposed to a good venting session, the goal of which is to get hearty agreement that our way is RIGHT, and those other people are doofuses. Sometimes we need these, but we need to know when we are in a venting or information exchange interaction!)

Fill in the blank, venting, chatting, lecturing…

I guess my conclusion is there’s lots of reasons to communicate, and lots of WAYS to communicate in addition to the face value of the words in sentences. To succeed, whether you want to share information, educate, insult, or vent, you need to first agree on the mutual goal. Otherwise, we’re just talking (or typing) at each other rather than with each other.

I don’t know if any of this has helped at all. There is more I could say, but no time to say it, since lunch is over, and I need to go to some more work meetings and nod my head and smile a lot or help someone solve a problem (I like the latter kind best).

The Next Day

Someone said they couldn’t follow this well, because it’s written, not spoken. Then I couldn’t tell if they were joking or serious, because there were no emoticons. I rest my case.

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