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Posts Tagged ‘point of view’

This isn’t even a joke.  Okay, I mean it is, but it isn’t.

So we’re expecting snow tomorrow in the greater Seattle area, and I was just thinking, I hope the snow plows are out nice and early so I can get to work… and I had to add “too” at the end, there, because well, first I won’t be the only one trying to get to work, but in order for me to get to work those drivers have to have already been at work for quite a while.

Which got me seriously thinking, how do they get to work when the snow is really bad?  I’ve seen street trucks with plows on the front, maybe that’s how?  But yeah, it’s amazing how often we don’t think about who else has to do their part so we can accomplish something.

And what’s worse, we’re getting more and more selfish about making sure we get ours and not caring who has to sacrifice what for it.

We want stores not just open first thing dark and early on the day after Thanksgiving, now we want stores open on Thanksgiving itself!  Never mind that the people having to work are being denied their holiday with family and dinners (at least, I hope that’s what they’d be doing otherwise), we want our stuff and we want it now and nobody had better inconvenience us by *closing* on holidays!

I’ve had people pass me, while I was in the left turn late, heading into oncoming traffic, because wherever it was they had to be was more important to them than considering the accident they might have caused by their impatience and reckless driving.

I’ve heard people talk about a bank who denied them loans as “not giving me my money!”  But it wasn’t their money!  This idea that someone else is denying you access to *their* money is now equated with being denied access to *your* money. (And no, I’m not going to get into the actual details of that not even being the bank’s money, that money was created out of thin air from nothing at all… that’s a different rant.  Being denied a loan for prejudiced reasons is also a different rant, but that happens, too.)

But in general, we’ve become very self-centered, spoiled, and entitled.  We don’t care about lifting up one another, only ourselves.  We don’t care who is denied something, so long as *we* aren’t denied something.  We aren’t grateful for what we have, we’re indignant that we don’t have more.

I suppose it could be the country going through it’s terrible two-hundreds…  (not that it was all that good in the first place) but wouldn’t it be nice if people remembered we’re all in this together?  You can’t climb a latter if you keep sawing off the rungs because they’re “in your way”.

Take a minute today and think of who around you helps you ‘get where you’re going’, either literally or metaphorically.  Think about the janitor (or maybe the family member!) who replaces the toilet paper rolls so you can… ehem.  Think about the person working at the check-out counter so you can buy your things.  Think about the snow plow driver who has to get to their work so you can get to yours.

Just… take a moment and think about others.

And Merry Christmas.

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This is likely going to cause the wrong kind of controversy.  Let me say up front this is NOT a post which is suggesting anyone has to ‘get over’ anything, or that anyone is wrong in viewing the world the way they do.  This is about sharing my view.

There is a real and justified cry about the lack of “people who look like me” on TV.  “Me” in this case being anyone not white.  What I disagree with, however, is the argument that the television is therefore full of people who look like me; me in this case being actually me.

Just because she’s white doesn’t mean she looks like me.  Especially if you consider the level of make-up and even Photoshop involved in many ads these days, she probably doesn’t even look like herself!

Just because I’m white doesn’t mean I look at the TV or movies and see it filled with representations of me.  I don’t.  I see beautiful, skinny, wealthy women who wear short skirts and high heels who feel incomplete without a man.   They don’t represent me.   They don’t look like me.  They don’t act like me.

The very, very rare time that a woman is depicted as anything other than skinny and beautiful, she is usually heavy and beautiful, and her sole purpose is to prove that the heavy girl can still get the guy.  Which is great, except it’s limited to roles where the story plot *is* the heavy girl can get the guy.  The average woman on TV is still skinny and beautiful as the default.

Because of the difference in how culture views each of us, there is also a difference in how we view the culture, and how we interact with it.  They say giving a white doll to a black girl lowers her self-esteem, but giving a black doll to a white girl raises her empathy.   I think this is sort of the same idea.  Any two groups might have very different interactions and reactions to what is otherwise seen as the same catalyst.

When black people see black people on TV or in the movies or other media, they see themselves – because of the general lack of it.  But when white people see white people on TV or in the movies or other media, we don’t necessarily see ourselves.  We often feel worse about ourselves because of what we see.  It fuels our insecurities rather than building our esteem.  It’s like the opposite of the dolls.

The irony is, both groups look at today’s media and see someone other than us.  So it’s entirely accurate to say that everyone who isn’t white isn’t properly represented in media, but that doesn’t mean everyone who is white is.  It’s an oxymoron, but it’s true.

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The US, of all countries on earth, the US especially loves to be the standard of individuality.  The individual, not the group, not the whole, the individual is important.  The individual choice is king.  The “Army of One” ideology.  40 acres and a mule to everyone and you rough it out on your own.

And yet in reality, beyond whatever ideology we espouse, we are – as are most humans by nature – sheep.  In all the ways that really count.

We want the choice between Coke and Pepsi, we want the choice of 500 channels on the TV, and we want the choice in which cereal we put in our shipping carts.

And yet for all the choices, for all the individuality we desire, we choose based on what we think everyone else is doing.

4 out of 5 doctors tell us what we should do based on the majority opinion.  Most moms agree that they would do what most moms would do.  After all, the majority rules in a democracy, right?  So the majority must be right, and we want to be right, so we’ll go with the majority.

We don’t want individuality.  We want conformity.  In fact, we demand conformity around us.  We don’t want the person with the pink spiked hair to express their individuality, we want to tone them down into what we have deemed to be normalcy.  We don’t want to be the one who speaks out when everyone else seems to be agreeing.  We don’t want to be the one who stands out in a crowd.  We want to blend in, to go on with our lives, to be unremarkable.

We don’t want individuality, we want invisibility.

We will let evil happen so long as it looks like everyone else is letting evil happen.  Because we don’t want to be singled out.

But when we see someone step forward in dissent, we are more likely to be emboldened to dissent ourselves.

We don’t want to be individuals.  We want to be part of a group, and we’ll find the group that best fits what we want to be to become part of, but we won’t be a group of one if no group really fits us.

We won’t vote for the candidate who truly expresses our ideals, we’ll vote for the candidate we think is most likely to win.

We don’t want to be individuals!  We want to be part of a winning team.

We don’t want to rock the boat.  We WOULD jump off that bridge if all of our friends were doing it, because if they were *all* doing it… they must have a good reason!  Surely someone thought this through, and well, if they decided that was the best course of action, and if ALL of them decided it, who are we to dissent?  Who are we to go against the flow?  We don’t want to think, we want to follow.

We want to assume everyone else has put in the proper amount of thought and process into their decision making and come up with the best solution, and we’re just going to capitalize on their effort.

That’s why commercials show people “just like you” who have made this choice for you so you don’t have to think about it, they already did that.  All you have to do is buy this product and you can have whatever it is this person “just like you” has.

We don’t want to be the whistle blower.  In fact, we don’t even want other people to be whistle blowers.  We HATE whistle blowers!  We hate individuals.  We hate non-conformity.  We hate difference.

We have been conditioned to conform as part of our human nature.  In fact, we have been conditioned to believe that non-conformity not only is bad, but is useless.  We believe that *I* can’t make a difference.  *I* can’t change things.  *I* can’t help.  *My* vote doesn’t count.  *My* choices don’t affect anyone else.

We *fear* difference.  We *fear* change.  We *fear* standing out.  We *fear* being away from the heard.  Stay in the heard, blend in, be the group: you’re safe.  Be the stand-out, be the straggler, be the individual: be dinner.  We embrace conformity unless we think that through individual identity we can achieve greater power.  And it’s this belief that we can have power that overcomes our fear of being individuals.  But we don’t really let go of the group, we merely become leaders of that group, we gain power to control and direct the group.  We *become* what others need to conform to, and then we enforce that conformity on the group.

*I* did this.  *I* made this happen.  *I* deserve recognition for greatness.  *I* deserve to be given power for my accomplishment.   Therefore, you must follow me.

We want to act as a heard for safety, but we want to be recognized as an individual when that recognition brings us greater benefit than anonymity would.  We want to get the raise, we want to get the prize, we want to get the award, we want to achieve the fame, when these things come with positive benefits to us.

We want to act as a heard when it comes to blame, or better yet, treat others as the heard on which to be blamed, but act as an individual when it comes to our benefit or to avoid blame.  *We* failed to achieve our goals, *you* let down the customer, *I* did everything I could.

But even if we crave individual power, individual recognition, we instinctively know that anonymity in the group can give us greater power than individual recognition.  We instinctively recognize the power that anonymity grants us.  From wearing white hoods to hiding behind a keyboard, we allow the group to dictate our actions, our anonymity to become our immunity.  In order to express our power, we prey on the powerless.  The individual.  The stand-out.  The straggler.

We become that which we feared.  We become the predator.  We riot, we lynch, we laugh at the racist joke, all to conform to the group, all to gain power through group action, to conform to group-think.  We don’t want to be the one who stands up and says this is wrong.  We don’t want to be the one who stands in front of the tank.  We don’t want to be the one who goes to the press.

We don’t want to be individuals.  Yet we keep perpetuating the lie, the myth, that we are.  We are, in some ways, worse than cultures who work for the benefit of the group at the expense of the individual.  We will work with the group that brings the greatest individual benefit for ourselves, and sacrifice both the good of the group and other individuals to achieve it.  And especially, we want to ensure the “other group” doesn’t take the power from our group.

If you want to be an individual, don’t think that your choice of car models or soft drink or how you cook your eggs is somehow relevant to your individuality.  It’s your social choices, your choice of “groups”, your choice to remain silent, your choice to speak, your choice to act, your choice to stand-by that will make you a human being or a pack animal.

Which one are you going to be today?  Which one will you be tomorrow?  Which one will you be every time a chance to make a choice is presented?  Which “group” are you going to choose to belong to, and why?

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A response to this post, because No, I am not content to silently disagree: no-homosexuality-is-not-like-left-handedness  I’ll never disable comments, because I welcome differing points of view.  How on earth can we ever grow living in a bubble to ourselves?

The above indicates an opinion that homosexuality is wrong because there is no chance of pregnancy.  I will refute one thing, homosexuals are actually just as capable of producing children, just not with others of the same gender.  However, if the topic of acceptable sex is whether or not children are produced…

So to be barren or post-menopausal is similarly to have no right whatsoever to engage in sexual intercourse since a baby can never be the result.  Just making sure I’m clear on sex and it’s purpose, here.  No children = no sex.  No matter the reason, because sex without children is selfish and wrong and clearly a mental disorder.

Oh, you must similarly abhor birth control of any kind, because that allows for sex without the possibility of procreation.  And of course surgically having your tubes tide or cut (male or female) is akin to choosing to be homosexual because you’re now creating a situation where you are having sex without the possibility of procreation, and should be labeled as having voluntarily adopted a mental disorder.

Every time I have sex with my theoretical future husband, I had damn well sure better be prepared to get pregnant and under no circumstances – no matter how many children we’ve already had or what our financial situation – should I attempt in any way to prevent the possibility of again becoming pregnant, or else I’d just better clamp my legs together and say, “Not tonight, honey, we can’t afford it!”

Because before these pesky homosexuals came along, no heterosexual couple ever dreamed of having sex without having a child.  Yes, it was those homosexuals who corrupted us “straighties” into thinking birth control was ever an acceptable choice.

Though I must wonder, if the only function of sex was to have a child, then why would women who are “legitimately raped” have bodies that could have a way to “shut all that down” and prevent pregnancy?

Clearly there is something *wrong* with women who are raped if they can prevent their own pregnancies.  Right?  Just making sure I understand the whole line of thinking here.  Raped women had damn well better be sure to have that child so it isn’t confused with being selfish or having a mental disorder!

Non-sarcastically now: Sex can create children, yes.  Sex also nurtures intimacy, trust, compassion, mental well-being, stress-reduction, and a host of other things that are beneficial to long-lasting relationships.  Having sex for pleasure is as much about your *partner’s* pleasure as your own, while for some, having children can be an extremely selfish thing to do.

To assume that sex for pleasure always equals selfishness and sex for children is always some selfless higher calling is just plain ignorance at it’s … best? worst?

It’s disturbing that this isn’t obvious to more people.

Really, I don’t think it’s Authority you have a problem with, Matthew.

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This ongoing discussion on the merits of herbal/natural medicines got me very animated as I’ve had similar discussions in the past, with varying levels of rhetoric and vile.  I wonder if those who say that natural medicines are utterly useless and have never been proven effective even realize that many of our “modern, conventional” medicines are actually based off natural cures used for centuries and known to be effective.

Aspirin is synthesized from white willow bark, and even today I use white willow bark to ease mild headaches.

Honey has been proven to be effective for healing and preventing infection in wounds.  It isn’t any faster than something like Neosporin, in fact it was a little slower, but it was just as effective.

My sister’s dentist told her to pack a sore tooth with cloves until she could get in to have it looked at, because of it’s numbing properties.

Everyone knows about drinking cranberry juice to help a common urinary tract infection.  Why pay extra for a trip to the doc when you can just chug that down for a while and be fine?

Really, our ancestors were smart.  If they were as stupid as they’re often made out to be, they wouldn’t have lived long enough for us to be here, so they were smart, they were just as intelligent as we are and probably more wise because they had to be.  They knew that all these things around them had, from generation to generation, worked in a certain way.  Ancient Egyptians performed brain surgery.  In the 5th century BC, cataract eye surgery was being performed in India.

So we had advanced surgeries and functional medicines long before the advent of the modern age.  So it isn’t that these natural medicines don’t work – it’s that they don’t always work the way we *want* them to.

It seems there are three major issues with natural medicines once you get past the simple ignorance of history.

One is it’s nearly impossible to determine potency of naturally occurring medicines because the plant itself will vary from place to place, season to season, time of day, and even how old it is.  So yes, it can be difficult to determine or prescribe a dose when the dose may vary widely.  Even today, though, the dose of a medicine is often dependent upon many factors of the patient, body weight, age, gender, and just personal chemistry.  Dosages often have to be adjusted over time to get what works for each person.

Second is that yes, historically, our ancestors did get it wrong sometimes.  There are a lot of folk remedies that – more than not helping – may actually do more harm, and sometimes could kill you outright, but then we do that a lot, too.  We determine later that a medicine is ineffective, or that the side-effects outweigh the benefits, and some medicines, therapies, or cures that have been advanced in modern times are later retracted or revised because of new knowledge, so just because something falls under the heading of ‘modern’ or ‘conventional’ medicine doesn’t make it the best treatment.

And third is a general misunderstanding of how natural medicines are often meant to work in the first place.  We want fast, we want effective, and we want proven.  And even today it seems we can get two out of the three at best.  We can get proven and effective, but it takes time.  We can get fast and effective “experimental” drugs, and we can get fast, proven drugs that work ‘sometimes’, and all of them with side effects that make me think that the original problem might be preferable!  I’ve actually had a doctor prescribe me pain pills that made me so sick I decided the pain was better than the sickness the pills caused!

Today we have this picture of how medicine works: you go to a doctor, you get a pill, you take this pill for X number of days, and you’re better.  The only role the doctor plays in this is to write you the prescription to get the pill.  And it seems even more and more, those “X” number of days means “for the rest of your life.”

Natural medicines often work almost entirely differently.  You go to a doctor, and they prescribe you a medicine, but rather than that being the end of their role, they will be involved in the entire process, ensuring that the medicine is working, and working as expected.  They may increase or decrease the dose depending on how you respond.  They may add another complementary medicine to help.  They can ensure that if you begin to have side effects that they are caught quickly.  They aren’t just the Pill Despenser ™ that many people have come to expect.

And you know what?  This is exactly how modern medicine often works as well!  So I don’t know why some people continue to knock natural medicines when all in all they aren’t too different in approach or effectiveness than modern.

Years ago when I was in therapy for post traumatic stress and at the time moderate depression, my therapist suggested St. John’s Wort tea.  It didn’t “cure” me, but it helped.  That was the point.  I wasn’t supposed to drink a cup of tea and magically feel better.  It was supposed to be a temporary stabilizer for my moods, and that in combination with plain old *walking* which is again proven to improve mood.

When I had a certain type of glandular infection, my doctor gave me options.  she said the conventional approach was to give direct injections of antibiotics to the area (this type of infection did not respond to oral antibiotics.)  She also said that could be combined with lancing the area and letting the glands drain.

Neither of these options sounded terribly inviting.  First, I’m terrified of needles, and second, lancing basically means *cutting it open and letting it drain* so yeah, no.

The natural remedy was to go to the local co-operative, buy some goldenseal powder, make a paste, and apply it to the skin with a warm compress.  The goldenseal contains natural antibiotic qualities and would be absorbed into the skin to help fight the infection.

I decided that was the way I was going.  The very first application relieved the pain.  It took a few weeks to fully get rid of the infection, but it did work.

Okay, it took longer than either of the conventional remedies would have.  But you know what?  Now when I get that same kind of infection again, I don’t have to necessarily go back to the doctor and pay for another examination, pay for another round of antibiotic shots.  I go back to the co-op and buy more goldenseal.  (actually, I keep it stocked in my house now.)  I also keep a tincture of it for when I have sore throats, it takes the pain away instantly and lasts for a few hours, but it does taste utterly vile (so I guess that proves it’s medicine?)

Now wait a second, I hear you say.  You just contradicted yourself!  You cut the doctor out of the process.

Yes, I did.  Because once the first round was over, once I had a mind of what was normal, what to expect, then I can reasonably determine that I have the same infection, and treat it the same way.  Barring any complications that arise, I don’t necessarily have to go back to the doctor for the same thing again.

Diagnose myself?  Treat myself?  Who do I think I am? I didn’t take medicine in college, I’m not qualified to act as a doctor, the arrogance!

But just watch TV for a few hours and count the number of drug commercials that are being marketed directly to you, the consumer, in the earnest hope that you will go to your doctor and say “Give me this!”  You diagnose yourself, and want to treat yourself, but that pesky need for the doctor to prescribe it gets in the way.

So really, the only thing that keeps modern people from using modern medicines the same way we use natural medicines is the stop-gate of needing a prescription.  So the argument of self-diagnosis and self-treatment quickly becomes a non-issue.  The only thing to watch out for is when the treatment doesn’t work or complications arise, you do have to go back to the doctor.  But you have to do that with conventional medicines, too, so it really isn’t an argument for or against either one.  It’s something they have in common!

Really, when it comes down to it, natural medicines are just like conventional: it’s best used under a doctor’s care, but even so there are plenty of over-the-counter that can be used more or less at will.  The dosage often needs adjustment.  They aren’t always effective, or as effective as we’d like, and sometimes they just taste terrible.

Really, the two major differences between natural medicine and conventional medicine?

One: drug companies can’t patent a naturally occurring plant.  They can only patent a specific kind of extraction or synthetic equivalent, so modern medicine pushes profits.  Use the “purple pill” instead of a natural equivalent so the patent holders can get their exorbitant kickback.

Two: without the need for a prescription, it can be easier to abuse or misused natural medicines, but given the ease at which convention is abused, it’s hardly a difference worth noting.  Mostly it just requires the same care as any other drug.

And before anyone says I’m against modern medicine, re-read everything I’ve just written and tell me where I said that.

Anyway, that’s my $2.50.

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Because it seems like a lot of people still don’t understand the word, I’d like to explain.

 

Gay is *not*:

Stupid, lame, undesirable, effeminate, butch, less than, harmful, something to be feared, a choice, an insult, a burn, a political stance, a religious stance, flamboyance, a style of speech, a manner of walking, hugging your best friend, showing emotion, touching the same gender, experimenting with the same gender, playing with traditionally ‘other’ gendered toys, dressing in traditionally ‘other’ gendered clothing, having a body that does not conform to a socially defined sex, having a mind that does not conform to your biological socially defined sex.

 

Gay does *not equal*:

Child molester, everyone after a few drinks, gender, sex, harassment, transgendered, transvestite, rape.

 

Gay means:

A sexual orientation, attraction to the same gender.

 

Things that can’t be gay:

Music, movies, tv shows, commercials, haircuts, clothes, expressions, school, tests, work, things you don’t like, things you don’t agree with, things, situations (unless there is actual, complicit, desired same-gender activity occurring).

 

Things that can be gay:

People who are attracted to the same gender, situations where same-gender attraction stuff is going on.  Gay pride parades are, unquestionably, gay.  🙂

 

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There are two kinds of context.  The one in which something is presented, and the one in which something is consumed.  Words are spoken in the first kind of context, and they are heard in the second.  And these contexts do not always see eye to eye.

There are people who say that your intent doesn’t matter, only your words.  It doesn’t matter if you weren’t thinking of *that* when you spoke, if the person who heard you was, you’re still to blame, apparently.

I don’t agree with that.  It puts the burden of having to know the context of the lives of everyone who might possibly hear on you, and that is an impossible burden to bear, and it removes any possibility of reaching cultural understandings and simply makes one party “wrong”, end of discussion.

A person is responsible for their words, yes, but only to the degree that they can reasonably be expected to know or anticipate the reaction to them.  That means they are not responsible for every possible reaction based on a listeners individual context.

A person who makes rape jokes, then apologizes because he didn’t know one of the people listening had been raped… is not being defended here.  The context of the so-called “joke” is the problem in the first place, regardless of whether the person hearing has experienced it of not.   They may claim the intent was not to offend but such “jokes” are offensive by their very nature.

What I am saying is, if a person says something that they intended to be entirely innocent or mean something very different, they are not responsible for someone else misunderstanding what they meant or how they meant it.

This struck me today by way of a humorous almost-accident at work.

The manager, having reviewed the resume of a potential computer drafter, wrote a reply back that it looked as if she had excellent qualifications and experience in the field, but was concerned that the resume offered “no example of modeling experience.”

Once the reply was finished, he re-read the reply (which is something you should always do, by the way) and realized that what he meant was something very different than what might be taken by the recipient.  He quickly changed it to “solid  modeling experience,” but then realized that might not be any better.   After a brief moment of laughter as he was trying to come up with a reply that could not be misconstrued, he settled on “solid parts modeling experience.”

It got me thinking about how what we say can so easily be taken the wrong way, but that if he had sent off his first reply, would it have been fair to accuse him of being sexist because “What, the female drafter wasn’t a model, so that’s why you didn’t hire her??”   No, obviously that was neither the intent of his words nor the context in which the reply was being sent.

If he *hadn’t* noticed the possibility of being misunderstood, it still would have been his intent to inquire as to her experience in solid parts modeling not personal modeling.

That stuck in my mind, because people seem too quick to say intent doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter if you didn’t *intend* to offend anyone, you did.  It doesn’t matter if you didn’t *intend* to sound sexist, you did.  It doesn’t matter if you didn’t *intend* to sound racist, you did.

Well, I wonder about that.  If you didn’t intend to offend, and your words were not ones that by their nature are offensive, then yes, it does matter that you didn’t intend to offend someone.  Someone being offended is on their shoulders.  Understanding has to go both ways.  You can realize that in some contexts or with some people, what are otherwise innocent words can be misunderstood.  But you can never know what every person who hears/sees your words may possibly understand them as, and there is no phrase PC enough that you can avoid every possibility of offense.

If you meant to ask if a person had ‘solid parts modeling’ experience when you asked if they had ‘modeling’ experience, that is not the same thing as being sexist, even if someone else did not understand the context in which you asked the question and became offended.  Them misunderstanding you is not proof of your bigotry, nor does it somehow infuse your words with inherent bigoted language.  It should not become an issue where you must issue some sort of press-conference sized apology.

Them misunderstanding you is only an indication that further communication needs to take place to bring the speaker and the listener into a shared context of understanding.  It is *not* an indication that the listener has no obligation to understand what the speaker meant and that the speaker is the one who must make every concession towards understanding.

Yes, in this instance, it was noticed that ‘modeling experience’ could easily be misunderstood, because the speaker (writer) had a shared context with the perspective listener (reader) that allowed him to reasonably anticipate the possibility of misunderstanding and forestall that.

However, there are often times when a speaker can not anticipate the way his or her words would be understood because there is no shared context between the two of why the words are (or are not) offensive.

An example of this is a discussion I had with an Australian, in which I asked what – to me – was a simple and very innocent question, “which sports team are you rooting for?”  In American English, ‘rooting’ in this context would mean cheering for or supporting.  In Australian English, it meant something very, very different (and very vulgar) and lead to a momentary embarrassment before the usage of the word in our respective cultures was understood by the other to be very different than what our understanding was on our own.

In this case, there is no possible way I could have anticipated the vastly different definition we applied to the same word, or how my question could have been misunderstood or caused possible offense.  There is no way I could have known, because I had never before been in a position to learn.  And that is the crux of many misunderstandings, not that a person should have known better, but that they had never had the opportunity to learn.  Ignorance is a human *reality*, not a failing.  There is more in this world that we don’t know than what we do, so we should always be open to learning, and we should always be forgiving to those who simply haven’t learned yet.

So my intent was not to be vulgar and offensive, and even if my words had caused offense, such misunderstandings need to lead to communication and understanding on both sides.  It would not have been appropriate for the listener to demand an apology, to insist that what I meant didn’t matter because what I said was so offensive it was beyond intent, or that I should carry some burden of shame for having been misunderstood.

In this case, I did not cause offense, even if offense was taken.  Now, as a nice person, you should obviously apologize when your words hurt, but there should always be an effort to be understood as not having meant to cause hurt, and that really should count for a lot.

Again, there are examples of the meetings of cultures in days gone by, where what may be considered neutral or even good in one culture was considered very offensive in another.  But of course, until these cultures meet and communicate, there is no possible way for either to have known!  The burden should always be on gaining understanding, not holding onto our hurt feelings as if they truly are the only things that should matter.  Because really, if we understand others better, it is likely our feelings won’t be hurt by such things in the future.

Understanding goes both ways: the person speaking learns a new context and hopefully seeks to remedy that source of misunderstanding, and the person hearing learns to let go of a possible source of pain/offense.  Win-win, right?

That is why I get so upset when people say intent doesn’t matter.  Yes, it does.  Intent matters just as much as words do.  If a person says or does something that you find offensive, before you simply put it back on the person as being “obviously in the wrong”, consider that there are always two contexts, and just because you understood something as being offensive does not always mean that offense was intended to be given.

Now obviously this can sometimes be a cop-out.  I’ve snapped at a co-worker for making snarky remarks about a person’s last name in relation to whether they could speak English and of course he immediately replied “I didn’t mean to offend”… well, yes he did, he just didn’t think it would offend me.

There may be people you know who would not be offended by certain things, and it’s fine if you get your group together and say whatever you want knowing that you all share a context in which no offense will be taken and everyone walks away fine. I’m not talking about that.  What a few do in privacy between themselves isn’t up for anyone else to debate.

What I am talking about is what level of responsibility we can reasonably lay upon a person for their words, and what level of responsibility we must take on ourselves as the recipient (intended or not) of those words.

Just because you were offended doesn’t mean they were being offensive.  Your reaction is not the end-all of the argument, nor the only part of the equation that matters.  There is responsibility on both sides to understand and seek to better the dialogue, it is not a burden to be placed on just one side or the other.

Thoughts?

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… do you suppose other countries smirk and roll their eyes when Americans talk about ‘antiques’?

We generally think of antiques as anything that was used by our grandparents, whereas many other places, even 500 yrs old can be seen as relatively modern.

The ‘historic district’ of some of our cities don’t even date back 200 years, whereas some cities on earth have been continuously occupied for upwards of 3 – 5,000, and these are just ones we know about.

I think of my house as old because it was built in 1932.  Nineteen-thirty-two.  CE.  It hasn’t even hit 100 yet.  It’s barely out of its proverbial diapers as far as old buildings are concerned.

It is due partly to this that I think Americans tend to have a rather skewed sense of history.

(This does not, of course, factor in Native American cities, which date back far earlier, or any of their artifacts, all of which are labeled “ancient”, as if the people who used them existed ooohhh so long ago instead of, you know, today.  But that’s another rant entirely.)

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