Topic Tuesday #165 2015/09/15 "If You Can't Say Anything Nice..."

Topic Tuesday #165 2015/09/15 "If You Can't Say Anything Nice..."

You've heard it. If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. I am typically against this line of thought, but when I have not nice things to say, I try to have the discussion  warranted rather than just shout into the open. Sometimes that is possible. Somethings it is not your choice to make. Other times, life happens. 

There's always room for jello.

There's always room for jello.

I am reminded this day that no matter how clearly you consider your statements., no matter how clear and erudite your arguments, someone will not understand. Someone will be offended. Something can always go wrong, because communication is a remarkably complex thing among humans. I can say, "lemon jello" and most of you will actually think of the jello in your mouth, the taste of the lemon, the texture of it. Some of you will be happy, others will be disgusted. How would I know? If it my fault if you were disgusted by my statement of "lemon jello?" Should I care?

I don't think I should care, at least not deeply. If you are offended by something I say, and it was not specifically about you by name, that is not my problem. That is your interpretation of the words I have said representing the thoughts in my head.  If you think the thoughts in my head should change, then you too can use your words to put ideas into my head and change them. It is a marketplace of ideas, and I hope the best idea wins, even if it is not my idea.

Topic Tuesday #115 2014/09/30 "How do you say, ‘I’m Sorry’?”

Topic Tuesday #115 2014/09/30 "How do you say, ‘I'm Sorry’?”                   

Continuing my series on language arts and the art of language, I would like to address a vital component of human communication: the apology.

It has been said it takes a big man to say they're sorry. Misogynistic societal tendencies aside, it really does take an effort to push ego aside and admit to being wrong. This is very much the intersection of simple definitions and the larger implied meaning behind them.

Of course the simple definition is understood by all over the age of 2 (or ought to be). To feel badly about something you did or to have empathy towards the suffering of another.  The complication of the implied meaning is that of a personal failing or weakness; accepting blame. This can be  tall order for just about anyone. I know getting my kids to say they are sorry, and actually mean it, is quite the task. I am enormously proud when they present genuine remorse and feel bad about injury to someone not themselves.

To the matter at hand, it is difficult to bring one to the act of admitting they are sorry/remorseful/at fault/etc.. I have found through the years that simply swallowing my pride and doing it as quickly as possible has the best risk/reward characteristics. You get it over with quickly and then you don't have to let it eat at you until you do admit it. Certainly this is not the case for some, and languishing in guilt does not take nearly the toll it does on me. For those people, perhaps a little forced empathy is a better solution, and getting into the habit of asking yourself, “How would it feel if it were me on the other end?” can be a valuable path to tread.

In the end, sometimes you have to apologize to yourself on behalf of other people. Many will never realize their own offense and will carry on as if nothing has ever happened. In these cases, you owe it to yourself to forgive, as you are the one that will benefit from it the most. Forgiveness, much like funerals, are for the living, and once someone is gone from your life, it will be up to you to say “I’m sorry” even if it only matters to you. You deserve peace, as much as anyone.

To those that I have offended, I implore you to forgive me, as I am not likely to say I’m sorry since it was not my intention to offend. Please forgive my ignorance and allow the ax you bear in your heart to fall to the ground and turn to dust. My father said once upon a time, “Don’t bother with grudges. While you are sulking, the other guy’s out dancing.”

Topic Tuesday #114 2014/09/23 "I’d Like to Have an Argument, Please.”

Topic Tuesday #114 2014/09/23 "I’d Like to Have an Argument, Please.”

Continuing my series on language arts, I’d like to have an argument. This is sometimes a difficult proposition. Most ‘normal’ people do not like arguing, and will actively avoid it. BUT we are in the information age. We no longer have to pay one pound for a five minute argument; we have the INTERNET!

To continue quoting Monty Python

M: An argument isn't just contradiction.

O: Well! it CAN be!

M: No it can't!

M: An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition.

O: No it isn't!

M: Yes it is! 'tisn't just contradiction.

O: Look, if I *argue* with you, I must take up a contrary position!

M: Yes but it isn't just saying 'no it isn't'.

O: Yes it is!

M: No it isn't!

O: Yes it is!

M: No it isn't!

O: Yes it is!

M: No it ISN'T! Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of anything the other person says.

O: It is NOT!

M: It is!

Now, the British are long held as the masters of polite conflict, perhaps only matched by the passive aggressiveness of the Amish and the LDS church. Any session of British Parliament is rife with this style of argumentation. It’s great fun to watch and listen to but it’s absolutely worthless beyond a laugh.

“Argument” is actually only a component of a larger enterprise, that of debate. When confronted with a situation that necessitates verbal pugilism, what you absolutely must keep in mind - is your goal. Are you just being contrary? Then carry on as ham fisted as you like… However… If you want to actually win minds, you need to argue with purpose; that takes skill.
This is where all the things you know about talking to people comes into play. All your skills at listening and communicating are taken to task in a real honest argumentative debate. Imagine the fights you had with your parents or classmates or teachers when you were growing up. All the anger that you had versus their stoic and unmoving obviously wrong opinions. Did you listen to their side? Did the focus of the argument get lost with yelling? Did they even have a side or just slam the proverbial door with “BECAUSE I SAID SO!”? This is the end of an attempted argument; sadly, one that neither side could ever hope to win with logic and reason. 

What does a great argument look like? One that works for all parties?

Some key elements of proper conflict resolution consist of:

  • Each side stating their case, preferably calmly, rationally, and respectfully, to parties that actively listen to the elements of the case.
  • Further clarification is offered when questions warrant such.
  • Analysis of positions is accomplished within the individuals.
  • Compromise is offered and countered, and re-countered until…
  • An equitable resolution is reached for both parties.

There are some problems with the above idyllic example. There are many times that one side is simply wrong, and they refuse to yield their position. Both sides may be in the wrong and a compromise does not bring either party closer to a best case scenario. Seldom does anything have a completely black or white solution. Get used to the grey area and not always getting your way, but try hard to keep your focus. Many arguments have been lost when the topic was changed out from under you. Some people you can’t reach with respectful arguments and you will either need to use a different tactic, or cut your losses and walk away.

Keep Calm and Carry On.

Topic Tuesday #113 2014/09/16 "Originality"

Topic Tuesday #113 2014/09/16 "Originality"

Continuing the theme of language and communication, today let's chat about being original. 

In ye olde times when language was young and the populace was largely illiterate it was remarkably flexible. Words would flow from mouth to ear thus changing the way they sounded the next time they were uttered. By where and whom a phrase was spoken, would inflict the culture of the region on the meaning of the words used. Slowly technology stepped in to slow down the diverging babble. The jeweler Gutenberg and his typeset press made it so language had permanence. Most notable is the Bible. So much of our language today is derived from this tomb that it is easy to reconcile its lasting nature as a cultural cornerstone. Other works followed the scriptures.

Outside of this, as people become slowly more literate, a new concept was born out of an old tradition. Literary license. At the Globe Theatre in London, William Shakespeare (or Christopher Marlowe or  Francis Bacon, if you believe such conspiracies) wrote a volume of work that stands to this day as remarkable. Hit turn of phrase was without match and what really sets him apart in my mind is his inventiveness at creating new words. All in all, he crafted over 1,700 of our modern words. He verbed nouns, turned verbs into adjectives and cobbled together prefixes and suffix that had not business being wedded to prior words. When that failed to suit the needs he would manifest them from nothing and create something wholly original. For some in depth analysis of some of these, browse over to Some examples of my favorite Shakespearian words, which you might not have known owe their origin to the playwrite and master poet: 

Arouse, Addiction, amazement, bedroom, blushing, circumstantial, champion, dauntless, compromise, eyeball, gossip, gloomy, luggage, jaded, hint, fixture, obscene, laughable, grovel, scuffle, swagger, majestic, mimic, outbreak, radiance, obsequiously, and one of my all time favorites, rant.

The reconstructed Globe Theatre, London.

The reconstructed Globe Theatre, London.

Obviously not everyone can be so original, but one must also look at the context for how Shakespeare's magic words were seeded into the vox populi. He relied on word of mouth, at the Globe, to spread the words and their meanings to the people, the common people. They entered everyday use rather quickly, being the cool thing to do at the time. It wouldn't take long for that to happen given how quickly our own society parrots whatever the best one liners were from the latest Saturday Night Live or blockbuster flick.In his day, his words were like a virus, and the contagion infected the language and peppers our pages today. He was bold and original and then made permanent in the mind and in print.  

I say this to you, be generous with your words. make then varied and vaulting. If you cannot find a word that fits, MAKE ONE UP! Be original. Make Shakespeare proud.