As long as we don’t get into quantum physics, that time / river analogy holds up.
I just don’t see what it has to do with the imperative to enjoy.
This reads like a syllogism, except there’s no clear relationship between the premises and the conclusion.
“Socrates is a man. All men are mortal. Therefore, have another glass of wine.”
Enjoy every moment in your life just because it’s unique?
Suffering can be exquisitely unique, and I’m not about to start appreciating my pain just because it’s not technically identical to the pain that preceded or is likely to follow it.
Many years ago, I read the short story “Funes the Memorious” by Jorge Luis Borges, and I found it both fascinating and overwhelming. I briefly revisited a summary on Wikipedia to write this post, so that’s where I’m coming from right now.
I’ll offer a spoiler warning for my summary, but the fact that it was first published in 1942 feels like pretty fair notice.
The title character, Funes, is a remarkable youth who experiences each present moment in unfathomable detail. Ever since “the accident,” he can fully recall anything he’s ever seen, heard, smelled, tasted, felt, or learned.
“Not only was it difficult for him to comprehend that the generic symbol dog embraces so many unlike individuals of diverse size and form; it bothered him that the dog at three fourteen (seen from the side) should have the same name as the dog seen at three fifteen (seen from the front).” (Borges)
He retains memories of literally all of his previous experiences – for instance, he is exceptionally fast at learning languages, and he can carry on linear conversations – but the information stacks up as trillions of individual pieces of knowledge rather than collapsing into categories that erase specificity.
This portrait of Funes is ultimately bittersweet. He dies at a young age shortly after being interviewed by the narrator of the story (a lightly fictionalized version of the real author).
This narrator’s perception of Funes is both reverent and patronizing. He keeps talking about the tragic youth’s incredible mind and amazing gift, while sadly pondering about the lost potential of that unique mind having been tethered to such a limited existence.
It certainly offers a different perspective on the message of “every moment in your life.”
I think the macro is ultimately meant to be read as a “seize the day” kind of thing.
Borges, on the other hand, seems a little more like an “engage in melancholic reflection on the astounding breadth of possibilities that dissipate to nothingness with each passing moment of each day” kind of vibe. To each their own.
This main message isn’t really the issue I have with the macro, anyway.
Plenty of profound philosophical reflection has been dedicated to the human experience of the passage of time.
The issue I’m picking at here is the disconnect between the evidence (“time is like a river”) and the conclusion (“enjoy every moment”).
It can’t simply be profound to notice that no two moments of your lived experience have been identical – it has to be enjoyable.
This is where Funes comes in. Borges’ work hardly embodies Toxic Positivity.
Borges’ story entertains an extremely literal interpretation of the idea that every moment is unique (again, excluding technical consideration of subatomic particles, which I am severely under-equipped to unpack in a meaningful way).
Funes does not have a great time in his life. The character exists to be a tragic thought experiment.
I suppose the opposite of Funes might be something like that episode of Star Trek with the culture whose language is entirely comprised of metaphors. In that case, it’s necessary to understand the historical, cultural, and contextual application of every reference, so abstract conceptual generalizations are even more important than usual.
The macro is an active imperative to enjoy the exquisite ephemerality of every moment.
Unlike Borges, the unnamed creator of this image for LifeLearnedFeelings was probably not interested in contemplating the tragedy of squandered potential or the hierarchical structure of meaning.
Frankly, I would prefer to read Borges quotes superimposed over sunsets than most of the words that end up there:
“To fall in love is to create a religion that has a fallible god.”
“I can give you my loneliness, my darkness, the hunger of my heart, I am trying to bribe you with uncertainty, with danger, with defeat.”
And, aptly, on the subject of time and rivers:
“Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river the sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.”
Also, I cannot buy that those are river ripples. That moon is clearly rising over either a lake or an ocean.
This was originally published between 2019 and 2020, but I’m repurposing it for 2021-2022.
I’m sure I could find the same prose with the current year listed if I really cared to try, but I don’t. The introduction is new, and some of the commentary has been updated accordingly.
After being diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 38, I became aware of how often I unconsciously outsource my motivation to circumstance.
That is, I rely on the necessity of situational urgency to force myself into action.
That is, I procrastinate.
Like most things that people do, procrastination isn’t intrinsically bad. It can lead to exasperating delays, unfinished tasks, and a lot of stress. But I think it’s worth recognizing that it’s not entirely maladaptive.
Procrastination can also create a strategic failsafe to balance out overwhelming or competing priorities. While a failsafe should generally be used sparingly, there’s no arguing that it helps create a clear path forward.
Recognizing that I’ve backed myself into a time-sensitive corner can help me accept the reasonable and inevitable limitations of my own work. That is, I can temporarily table perfectionistic paralysis.
I also sometimes struggle with deciding where to allocate my energy, and the relative urgency of deadlines can help me organize my tasks in order of significance and/or manageability.
I tend to take on a lot of things at the same time, and I tend to set ambitious goals based on my knowledge of my what I have been able to accomplish in the past (regardless of how much time, energy, and/or external support I have in the moment). Then I berate myself for not doing all the things to a high standard in a short time.
This pattern is hardly unique to me, and it’s hardly unique to people with ADHD.
I interpreted cultural values and concepts through the lens of my own experience, and I now represent an idiosyncratically fucked up variant of a combination of many common patterns. Just like everyone else who routinely shames themselves for not accomplishing goals that were unrealistic in the first place!
It’s a lot easier to move forward when procrastination and “failure” are framed as things that do happen, rather than as things that shouldn’t happen.
But it took me 38 years to even encounter that message, let alone embrace it.
Procrastination isn’t necessarily the enemy. It can become a problem, but it’s often a response to some larger problem (including but not limited to unattainable expectations).
The clean slate of a new year is alluring.
People make New Year’s Resolutions.
People give up on them.
People forget about them.
People shame themselves for failing to achieve them.
People shame others for setting for unattainable goals while refraining from establishing intentions of their own.
It’s like the universe is conspiring to force everyone to get their shit together.
The universe and/or corporations eager to exploit shame for profit.
In general, resolutions could stand to be more concrete and more feasible. Shame loves to feed on unrealized potential and curtailed ambition.
On the other hand, resolutions that remain open to abstraction, ambiguity, and gradual progress can encourage real growth. It’s possible to craft lovely, expansive, insightful, and practical resolutions (or non-resolutions), as in these posts from Alok Vaid Menon, Sam Dylan Finch and Dr. Devon Price.
So aspirational goals can be great, and unrealistic expectations can be disappointing, and identifying a personally viable balance between these can be tricky.
And even if that delicate balance is successfully identified, it certainly won’t look good in an Instagram post.
Habitual procrastinators get a lot of shit about their epic last-minute pushes, and yet when late December rolls around, everyone is on board with the implausible gratification of that failsafe reboot.
“New year, new me!”
It’s an inspirational blend of desperation, denial, and self-righteousness that’s captured really well by the image macro at the top of this page.
It was designed to be shared in the last days of one year in order to create momentum and excitement for the next.
“Not only should you aspire to fix everything, you can fix everything if you just want it hard enough and try hard enough!”
I think some of the themes in the above list of TRASH come through more clearly if I address them in reverse order.
Opening with “doubts” highlights the unearned confidence behind the rest of these resolutions.
“Trash those doubts! Absolute confidence is always preferable to uncertainty. Having doubts leads to changing your mind, which leads to being wrong, and being wrong is for losers. Stuff your willingness to change your mind into a big black Hefty bag, along with your willingness to admit that you might not know something and your openness to new perspectives.”
It’s not actually the worst thing in the world to experience doubt. Doubt can motivate us to ask questions. Certainty, on the other hand, can encourage us to fight for the cause of answers that don’t actually exist.
I debated about using the words “Toxic Positivity” on this blog because a lot of “Toxic [X]” discourse has become, well, toxic.
“The recent construct of interpersonal toxicity works best when a strongly opinionated individual is the sole arbiter of what IS and ISN’T fundamentally toxic. ‘Toxic’ is also an inherent, easily-identifiable, and static property. The toxic things in your life aren’t that way because of some kind of complex confluence of unknowable factors. The things that you have decided are ‘toxic’ are transparently bad, irredeemable, and to be avoided. “
I ultimately stuck with “toxic” because I think it’s worth remembering that it’s a modifier.
Most things that can be toxic can also be lots of other things.
Masculinity, for example, can be toxic, healthy, grounded, emotional, respectful, queer, and more. Sometimes two or more of these at the same time. And sometimes none of them.
Even waste isn’t inherently toxic, even though “toxic waste” is a common and accurate expression.
Years ago, a friend of mine (who is an amazing human who moves through the world in a very different way from me) posted on social media that they were “giving up” hitting the snooze button on their alarm for a month.
I couldn’t wrap my head around it.
It’s not that I disbelieved my friend or their commitment to their goals.
It’s just that for me, the idea of “giving up” the snooze button felt as feasible as “giving up” being hungry after missing a meal.
Yes, there are habits and practices in other areas of life that can help support a smooth wake-up ritual, but the bottom line is that I’m not a morning person. Even when I’m living “well” and making lots of “good” choices, I tend to fall asleep again after the first alarm. That’s why the snooze button exists.
For my friend, the snooze button was a bad habit that they could consciously choose to break.
For me, the snooze button is only a “choice” in that if I don’t choose to use it, I am likely to lose jobs, opportunities, and/or relationships. Fighting against the reality of the snooze button is a losing battle for me if I want to maintain a lifestyle that requires me to be up and ready before 8 AM, short of learning to be an entirely different person who operates in entirely different ways than I have ever successfully functioned before. (I have unsuccessfully attempted this approach for approximately 30 years.)
Like “toxic,” “bad” is a modifier whose definition varies according to context.
This isn’t actually as debatable as people seem to want it to be.
Labeling behaviors as intrinsically “good” or “bad” promotes value judgments more likely to create shame and self-flagellation than sustainable and satisfying progress.
Options that are difficult but manageable choices for some people present unnecessarily exhausting and impractical barriers for others.
Whether something constitutes a “good choice” or a “bad habit” has to be understood according to its context, and even then, lots of common behaviors could reasonably be considered both.
“Here’s a super sustainable expectation to have for yourself: stop doing bad things. Just, you know, any habits you have that are not truly, deeply good. If you still have any remnants of those habits two days from now, you’re trash. Prepare to be kicked to the curb.”
For many years, I wanted to be the “bigger person” across all conflicts, which I understood to mean “never invoke people’s past actions because that means I am automatically worse for holding a grudge.”
But it turns out that “observing patterns” and “holding grudges” are not the same thing!
It turns out that it’s reasonable to notice and remember how people tend to behave and how their actions tend to affect you, and to talk about history when it starts to repeat itself.
That’s a far cry from bringing up a laundry list of unaired or unresolved grievances in every discussion.
I suspect that folx with extensive collections of self-proclaimed toxic shit and fake acquaintances around them that they are desperate to to let go of are also likely to have a tough time letting go of grudges.
So, I’m interested to know where the author of the macro draws the line between “grudges” and “memories about lived experiences.”
“Trash your grudges by trashing all the humans who have ever wronged you according to your own underspecified criteria!”
You know what, I think this one helps clarify the working definition of “grudge” here.
“Exes are inherently and fundamentally trash, period. Amicable breakups are lies. Also, grudges are trash. Those bitches know what they did and why I’m mad.“
I guess it probably is time to ditch those cardboard cutouts of the cast of Grace and Frankie that I set up around the kitchen table.
…can I at least keep Sol around after New Year’s? He’s so understanding.
Like, I get that the resolutions are broadly suggesting that you should surround yourself with people who are authentic. But I’m still a little fuzzy on the interpretation “fake family” here.
If it means “people in your family of origin or chosen family who you believe to be superficial liars based on your own interpretation (see: toxic),” it might be a good resolution to work on understanding and communication before the trashing part.
On account of how people might not know that they are being disposed of due to something that has never been explained.
(This is distinct from situations where good-faith efforts at reasonable negotiation have consistently failed, and/or situations that are openly abusive. The defensive tone of the macro leads me to believe that the creator has not necessarily unpacked their own toxic behavior, but I acknowledge that this is more assumption than fact.)
“Call up your toxic family members out of the blue and confidently tell them that they’re toxic trash and you’re throwing them out!”
At least there’s just the one fake friend to deal with. That’s reassuring.
It’s also reassuring to know that all of those grudges, which have nothing to do with that fake friend and all of that fake family, will be in the big ol’ trash bag on the curb of 2021.
“Be done with drama! Don’t spare any time for that self-centered flouncing that some friends seem to love, because you’re better than that.”
It’s okay to make resolutions and it’s okay to not make resolutions.
But please try, if you can, to think about expectations, and whether or not they are even your own expectations.
Have whatever kind of new year you want to have, whether or not it prioritizes happiness, productivity, or self-improvement.
The underlying idea is the same, and I agree that it’s important.
But this Mark Sterling version does more to emphasize the challenging flip-side that could hypothetically occur to people already struggling with depression and self-loathing: namely, since your own failure to sufficiently love yourself is what’s preventing you from soaring, you might as well give up on that goal of extrinsic accomplishment because it’s meaningless in the absence of the kind of self-love you can never hope to achieve because you’re such a failure anyway.
Hypothetically. Because who really has those kinds of thoughts, right?!? Gross.
This macro falls into the category of macros that basically say “You Have To Personally Do Something That Could Very Difficult But Will Be Presented As Deceptively Simple Before You Can Even Begin To Think About the Possibility of Confronting Structural And Systemic Oppression.”
Broadly, people do not struggle to love themselves entirely of their own volition.
People learn from their environments. People struggle to love themselves because they’ve been systemically oppressed, because they’ve been traumatized, because they’ve been neglected, because they’ve been abused, because they’ve been misled, and a whole host of other reasons that start with other people.
Perhaps it’s time to re-examine the significance we ascribe to personal responsibility, and de-center individual confidence as a metric for success.
Then again, we could just keep shaming people for developing coping mechanisms with predictably adverse long-term effects, and reinforce the message that the way they experience feelings has been the real problem all along.
I think that shoe-horning the message into the “FLY” acronym creates some ambiguity about the scope of “first.”
Is it ordinal or imperative?
Like, 1) Love Yourself 2) Soar 3) Profit?
Or is it like, “Put yourself first, before others, in order to succeed”?
I know I’m splitting hairs here, but this is pretty hefty advice, so I want to make sure I’m following it right.
I also think that the wordplay with F.L.Y seems a little shaky, and that making SOAR into an acronym could offer more stability by way of parallelism.
Subject Others to Ardent Ramblings?
Superciliously Orate At Randos?
Succeed Over Aggravating Rumination?
Stop Overthinking And Ranting?
Generally, I acknowledge that it’s petty and irrelevant to pick at grammatical and mechanical issues instead of engaging with content.
But I’m already being petty here.
So why isn’t there a period after the Y? Is the missing period contributing meaningfully to the word play? Was there a deadline?
“This macro has to go live RIGHT NOW or the internet will never know its power! NO TIME FOR PROOFING!”
I’m also kind of fascinated by the image choice here.
I would have guessed that this photo’s only purpose would be to serve as a backdrop for that “Footsteps in the Sand” poem about how Jesus will give you a piggyback ride when you get tired from too much beach strolling.
For a while I tried to avoid macros that used sunsets as backgrounds. They are pervasive, but not in a particularly funny way.
Frankly, a sunset seems like a solid choice for making a quote feel more substantial when you haven’t really examined the implications of what you’re saying but it seems deep af.
There are just too many pithy quotes that have gone the sunset route, though, and I concluded that it’s more challenging to avoid them than to accept them.
I tried to come up with a pithy* shorthand quip to simultaneously acknowledge and dismiss the cliché, and it was surprisingly difficult. Here’s what I ended up with:
“Nice sunset, asshole.”
When my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I didn’t find myself wondering, “Why did this happen to me?” nearly as much as I wondered, “Why did this happen to him?”
There’s a slight, strange comfort in the agony of asking that unknowable question.
I appreciate the short answer that there is no simple, single reason, beyond that he was a human, and humans die.
It’s more like the comfort of bracing one’s back against a cold wind, rather than the comfort of retreating into a warm shelter for some hot cocoa.
Shortly after Dad died, a person in my small hometown offered me condolences and said, with no other preamble, “It’s really a blessing, though, isn’t?”
I understand that they meant well, and were struggling (as we all do) to offer appropriate words for unspeakable pain.
But the direct leap from “I’m sorry for your loss” to “It’s really a blessing” stands out in my memory as the worst** thing anyone said directly to me during that time (though there are certainly other close contenders).
The unwillingness to sit with the discomfort of ambiguity forces an even more uncomfortable narrative of intentionality.
This kind of dismissal of grief seems like at least one outcome of replacing “why is this happening” with “what is god trying to show me.”
Reframing is a skill, and there’s nothing wrong with looking for growth opportunities in difficult circumstances.
But that’s not a reason to stop asking “why” questions.
There may not ever be any grand, universal answer as to why a specific terrible thing happened to a specific person, but there are likely structural and systemic reasons that identifiably contribute to any given tragedy.
I trust that religious folx are able to create beautiful, substantive, and thoughtful things.
Art, architecture, arguments, image macros, and more.
This kind of unselfconscious self-centeredness, which underlies so much of contemporary American Christianity, creates fertile soil for powerful institutions to deflect attention from themselves through victim-blaming and rationalization.
Of course your perspective changes when you stop trying to understand how things work.
It’s way easier to say “God is showing me things that are good for me to see” than it is to accept, “Many support systems are so fundamentally biased that some groups people are bound to suffer severe negative consequences” or “This is one of many possible outcomes of a confluence of circumstances, and it may not have happened for any grand ‘reason’ at all.”
The advice in this macro is to not focus on yourself so much, and yet you accomplish that by “realizing” (not “choosing to believe”) that an omnipotent, omniscient deity manipulated the world around you specifically with the hope of teaching you a valuable lesson.
That way, it’s your responsibility to accept that you have failed to discern the divine purpose behind your own suffering, and as a bonus you won’t even have time to question your government for allowing humans to die as punishment for not having hoarded enough dollars.
Sure, sometimes weak rationalizations look better in front of a sunset.
And sometimes the reasons “why something is happening to you” are nonexistent, and sometimes they’re utter crap, and it’s okay to feel unhappy when you notice that.
*Yes, yes, I see the irony.
Also, I am still figuring out the best way to handle footnotes in WordPress. For now, I am literally just using asterisks, and I hope to make it better in the future.
**Specifically, this was an unpleasant thing to hear from a person with a presumably Christian background (it is a very small town). In the lovely Jewish practice of saying “May their memory be a blessing” to mourners, it comes through clearly that the person’s memory is the blessing and not their actual death.
Once upon a time, a little article about a TED Talk showed up in my recommendations.
I had some thoughts.
I’m leaving in the identifiable information about the speaker, with the reasoning that anyone who has given a TED Talk understands that one downside of the platform is that it can lead unexpected new strangers to disagree with what you chose to say.
And, because I sometimes consider it appropriate to lead with caveats in an attempt to circumvent irrelevant and time-wasting challenges and “what abouts,” I’ll add my standard caveat that although I am discussing an individual person, my goal is to critique the ways in which her advice supports potentially harmful ideologies. It gets a little bit trickier with a TED Talk than it is with a totally decontextualized quote on an image macro, because obviously the person giving their own argument isn’t entirely separable from… themselves.
In some cases, I research the people behind pithy quotes in order to learn more about the context they came from, but I won’t do that here. I don’t know any more about this speaker’s work than what is available in the italic text below, because I am not interested in picking apart her overall scholarship or career. Just the arguments in this TED Talk. Whatever direction she has taken since giving this talk, her life is an active and evolving thing that has intrinsic value irrespective of my frustration with some conclusions she arrived at and presented on a stage in 2019.
That being said, the tone of this post gets caustic, and I am not sorry.
The speaker paints gender with broad strokes, and I tend to respond in kind. I would love to see the response to this talk that focuses entirely on gender essentialism, and that was not the direction I took here.
“Think about all the times you use the word “sorry” in a typical day. There are the necessary “sorry”s — when you bump into someone, when you need to cancel plans with a friend. But what about the unnecessary “sorry”s? The “sorry, this may be an obvious idea” at a meeting, the “sorry to cause trouble” when rescheduling a haircut, the “sorry, there’s a spill in the dairy aisle” at the supermarket.”
It’s not necessary to efficiently acknowledge your awareness of the fact that something is mildly inconvenient by using a common word capable of serving exactly that purpose.
This is because words can actually only have one fixed meaning and function at a time, and “sorry” is definitely not used in contemporary American English with a broad range of complex and situationally dependent nuances.
“Unnecessary” sorries (you know, the “embarrassed lady” ones) can only ever convey “I am ashamed of my own existence, and frankly I expect you to shame me for having called attention to the fact that I experience that shame in the first place.”
“Canadian sociologist Maja Jovanovic believes the “sorry”s we sprinkle through our days hurt us. They make us appear smaller and more timid than we really are, and they can undercut our confidence.
Jovanovic, who teaches at McMaster University and Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ontario, became interested in this topic when she attended a conference four years ago. The four women on a panel were, she says, “experts in their chosen fields. Among them, they had published hundreds of academic articles, dozens of books. All they had to do was introduce themselves. The first woman takes a microphone and she goes, ‘I don’t know what I could possibly add to this discussion’ … The second woman takes the microphone and says, ‘Oh my gosh, I thought they sent the email to the wrong person. I’m just so humbled to be here.’” The third and fourth women did the same thing.
During the 25 panels at that week-long conference, recalls Jovanovic, “not once did I hear a man take that microphone and discount his accomplishments or minimize his experience. Yet every single time a woman took a microphone, an apologetic tone was sure to follow.” She adds, “I found it enraging; I also found it heartbreaking.””
Canadian sociologist Maja Jovanovic believes that the word “sorry” is harmful to women because she interprets its phatic function as limited to the reinforcement of outdated dichotomous pragmatic expectations about gender performance. Furthermore, the lady version of those outdated dichotomous pragmatic expectations about gender performance is clearly the wrong version (out of the two options).
She frames her assumption that people who frequently apologize appear small, timid, and unconfident as universal. She is a scientist, after all, so her claim is completely objective and free from embarrassing caveats.
Many men, and also the smartest of women, do not like to hear apologies that they deem unnecessary, and therefore those apologies should be eradicated rather than re-evaluated.
Once when Jovanovic attended a conference, she completely failed to try to interpret the introductory apologies of her female colleagues as normal or functional, so instead of paying attention to their scholarly contributions, she focused on judging the fundamental wrongness of the inferior ways they chose to start talking.
Then she gave a TED Talk about how it was their fault that she didn’t listen to them more closely.
She was angry and sad when she noticed that some women did not communicate like some men. That’s what feminism was for.
It’s not like her whole argument is based on internalized patriarchal standards that are like Ayn Rand, in which efforts at communicative accommodation are like The Communist Manifesto.
Or maybe the men didn’t “discount their accomplishments” or “minimize their experience” because they have to be assertive and right all the time or the whole system falls apart.
The repercussions of talking like a lady include being treated like a lady, and we all know that we don’t want that!
No one listens to ladies.
“Jovanovic found the outside world not so different: “Apologies have become our habitual way of communicating,” she says. Since then, she’s collected needless apologies from her colleagues and students. One stand-out? “My research assistant said ‘Sorry’ to the pizza delivery guy for his being late to her house,” says Jovanovic. “She said, ‘Oh my gosh, we live in a new subdevelopment. I’m so sorry. Did you have trouble finding this place?’”
To paraphrase: “Our habitual communication strategies are habitual,” and for shame!
Also, never apologize to service people. They don’t merit your empathy. Who cares if they had a hard time and you are aware of a likely explanation that simultaneously permits them to save face and alleviate their very real concern that they might not be tipped and/or might be reported to their manager? That jerk of a delivery person should be reprimanded, if anything, or they’ll never learn better!
“We can eliminate the “sorry”s from our sentences — and still be considerate. “The next time you bump into someone,” Jovanovic says, “you could say, ‘Go ahead,’ ‘After you’ or ‘Pardon me.’” Similarly, during a meeting, Jovanovic says, “instead of saying, ‘Sorry to interrupt you,’ why not try ‘How about,’ ‘I have an idea,’ ‘I’d like to add’ or ‘Why don’t we try this.’” The idea is to be polite while not minimizing yourself.”
It turns out that there is a solution to this problem we didn’t know we had until someone told us they had a problem with it: just use different (therefore better) words to fulfill the same basic function!
Just be considerate without being apologetic. Understand? It’s obvious, if you’re smart. And you are smart, aren’t you?
It’s true that the functional distinction between “I’m sorry” and “Pardon me” as a response to physically bumping into another person is a little lost on me, but I also recognize that by acknowledging my own uncertainty, I’ve invalidated my perspective and should therefore be treated like an adorable little field mouse squeaking futilely into a microphone.
If anything, “Pardon me” is slightly less polite because it makes an additional request of the bumpee – “I beg that you grant me the favor of your pardon.” Whereas “I’m sorry,” or its colloquial variant “My bad,” more directly acknowledges and accepts personal responsibility. “I totally own up to having done that, and it’s not your job to absolve me.” (Assuming that the apology is clearly coming from the original bumper, or that the origin of the bumping was ambiguous enough for either party to safely assume responsibility.)
I’m also not sure that “Go ahead” or “After you” really comes across as polite in the context of me running my body into someone else’s body.
At best, it seems like a weird attempt to appear magnanimous in spite of having created the circumstances under which that magnanimity became necessary. At worst, it seems like a shady attempt to shift accountability to the bumpee: “Clearly, you were in such a hurry that you weren’t bothered to watch out for where my body was with respect to yours. Take all the space you need, bitch.”
This is getting complicated. If only a single, simple, widely accepted word or phrase existed to bypass all this nonsense. Does a word with such a function exist? I am sorry for admitting my ignorance, and also for apologizing for my awareness of my inferiority, but please remember that my self-confidence has the upper body strength of a newborn kitten.
Anyway, being considerate without being apologetic. That’s where this was going all along.
Jovanovic does not specify the nature of the interruption taking place when she suggests, “I’d like to add” as an alternative to “Sorry to interrupt.”
Is this script meant to happen in the middle of someone else’s words (like a literal interruption) or at a point of transition between speakers? Because describing the apology as “unnecessary” might be appropriate for the latter circumstance, but not so much the former.
SPEAKER 1: “My second point is that -”
SPEAKER 2: “I’d like to add to your first point! How about [x]?”
SPEAKER 1: “[x] was actually my second point. That was super helpful how you inserted it before I could sound like I understood my own argument. Your impatience is an asset to us all.”
The salient point here is that SPEAKER 2 never minimized themselves. They were also considerate, and SPEAKER 1 is really not the focus of this illustration.
“The “sorry”s that fill our written interactions also need to be noticed — and banished. For emails, Jovanovic says, “There’s a Google Chrome plug-in called ‘just not sorry’ that will alert you to all the needless apologies.” With texts, she points out, “Every single one of us has responded to a text you got when you weren’t able to respond right away. What did you say? ‘Sorry.’” She says, “Don’t apologize — say, ‘I was working,’ ‘I was reading,’ ‘I was driving, ‘I was trying to put on Spanx.’ Whatever it is, it’s all good. You don’t have to apologize.”
*Due to space constraints, discussion of the ‘just not sorry’ plug-in will be tabled for the time being, but please help yourself to Deborah Cameron’s perspective*
Jovanovic’s advice implies that she always assumes the most negative possible reading of those everyday “sorries.” Communication isn’t a constant act of negotiation and clarification, after all – if you think you know what someone else means, then you probably do!
Condescendingly insisting that “you don’t have to apologize” serves to demonstrate how deeply she misses the point of these “unnecessary” apologies.
“I interpreted your accommodation attempt as an invitation for your own dismissal, and so I summarily dismissed you. After correcting you.”
It’s exactly like at the conference. Jovanich is so distracted by feeling mad about the “sorries” that she completely ignores the purpose of the words that happen around the “sorry.”
And again, she frames her own act of dismissal as the other speakers’ fault rather than owning it as her choice.
If they would just stop apologizing, then of course she would listen.
These people are texting to communicate why they were late: “I’m sorry, I was trying to put on Spanx” is not a literal apology for the misdeed of trying to put on Spanx. The apology is for the lateness, and the Spanx struggle is a reason.
In turn, the function of the common responses, “You don’t have to apologize” or “It’s all good,” is not to say, “I condone your efforts with your Spanx.” The function is to say, “I do not begrudge you your minor delay.”
Or “I accept the legitimacy of the reason you gave for your lateness.”
The obtuse emphasis on the presence of “sorry” negatively affects the interpretation of the rest of the exchange.
If I texted a friend, “Sorry, I was [doing a thing],” and they texted back, “It’s all good,” I would feel reassured that my friend was understanding about my delay. But her explanation of the function of the response “it’s all good” seems different.
It seems more like when she says “It’s all good,” she actually doesn’t mean, “I accept the validity of your reasons, whatever they are,” (read: reassurance) but rather, “I don’t care about your reasons, full stop – why are you telling me this?” (read: impatience).
Now, it may seem that saying words capable of implying that you accept the validity of people’s reasons also kind of entails your implicit acceptance of the ways they chose to explain those reasons.
And therefore, it may seem like Jovanovic is arguing for exactly the same end game as those “unnecessary” sorries, but with fewer words.
“And, in some of the instances when we’d typically throw in a “sorry,” we could just use the two magic words: “thank you.”
Jovanovic tells of the moment when she realized the effectiveness of gratitude. She says, “Four of us were at a restaurant for a work meeting, and we’re waiting for number five to arrive … I put my sociological cap on, and I thought, ‘What would he say? How many apologies will he give?’ I could barely stand the anticipation. He arrives at the restaurant, and you know what he says? ‘Hey, thanks for waiting.’ … The rest of us said, “Yeah, you’re welcome,” and we all just opened our menus and ordered. Life went on, and everything was fine.””
That late man is a true inspiration. We have so much to learn from him and how his confidence makes him so adept at conveying meaning.
Context doesn’t matter, after all.
Whether he’s habitually late is immaterial. Whether his lateness genuinely impacted anyone else’s schedule, or if it was just a minor and temporary inconvenience, does not need to be part of the non-apology picture here.
“Another time when “thank you” can work better than “sorry”? When you’re with a friend and you realize you’ve been doing all the talking. Jovanovic says, “instead of saying, ‘Sorry for complaining’ or ‘Sorry for venting,’ you could just say, ‘Thank you for listening,’ ‘Thank you for being there’ or ‘Thank you for being my friend.’”
That is, “I am assuming your consistent goodwill so that accounting for its occasional situational absence becomes your job to handle on your own time, rather than it being my responsibility to pay attention to predictable reasons why you might get legitimately annoyed with me. Thanks for all the work that I’m passive aggressively reminding you that I expect from you, and remember that if you express any irritation about my venting now, you’re really being kind of an asshole for not graciously accepting my gratitude.”
That expression of gratitude is really a solid strategic diversion to take your friend’s focus away from your own lack of consideration.
That is, what they might wrongly perceive as your lack of consideration.
Because you don’t have to be sorry for talking over everyone all the time, ever. Hashtag girlboss.
If you do actuallyfeel sorry for dominating a conversation with a colleague or friend, for god’s sake, don’t say so. Using words that accurately convey your real inner feelings is not the way to get ahead in life.
“Besides removing them from our own communications, we should tell other people when they’re overdoing their “sorry”s, suggests Jovanovic. You can start with your family and friends — and if you’d like, go beyond them. She says, “I have been interrupting these apologies for three years now. I’ll do it everywhere. I’ll do it in the parking lot, I’ll do it to total strangers at the grocery store, in line somewhere. One hundred percent of the time when I interrupt another woman and I say, ‘Why did you just say sorry for that?’ she’ll say to me, ‘I don’t know.’”
It’s a good thing that she knows a woman when she sees one. That’s definitely a cool way to navigate the world when your career is knowing things about people and how they are.
“Without accounting for the weirdness or inappropriateness of my own imposition, I literally interrupt strangers from accomplishing whatever routine thing they were trying to do without the assistance of my opinion, and use the natural confusion and discomfort apparent in their most common response (“I don’t know”) to shame them in my data for first communicating wrong and then not understanding how fundamentally they had been failing at communicating. With an aggressive stranger. By using language in a way that came to them naturally.”
“Why did you just say sorry for that?”
Because it’s a common fucking script and I sometimes want to let other humans know that I’ve acknowledged their existence even though I’m more busy with living my own damn life.Sorry if you didn’t want to hear one of the words that my brain came up with just now, stranger.
Snark mode off (or at least significantly dimmed):
In some cases, my responses above are just as problematically reductive as the original argument, but this blog is also a space where I hope to demonstrate the necessity of complexity and nuance by artificially removing them.
I agree that careful reconsideration of unquestioned language practices is often valuable and sometimes necessary.
Situations exist where alternatives to “sorry” (including “thank you”) can be genuinely useful, and it’s fair to reflect on why some people seem to feel compelled to basically apologize for their existence.
There are some interesting questions to explore with respect to the frequency and distribution of some kinds of “sorries” and whether that correlates with gender (but actually, like, all the genders, and I don’t think we have access to many accurately-coded data sets to assess that).
The blanket advice that people whose voices are often silenced are responsible for modifying their already adaptive language habits in order to “earn” the right to be respectfully heard is a bullshit argument put forth by people who don’t want to bother to listen.
Sorry, but my self-aware and elective apologies are not going anywhere just to make pedants feel less compelled to correct me. If you go around worrying about whether people’s “sorries” seem unnecessary, it might not hurt to ask yourself whether your opinion is all that necessary to them.
The categories of “having been hurt” and “being able to smile” are not mutually exclusive.
Why are they being presented as if they are? Let’s explore!
I get the sense that the author was going for a chiasmus-type thing, and failed, but they wanted the basic infrastructure to uphold the illusion of forethought.
I could probably find a more precise rhetorical term for this setup than “failed chiasmus,” and maybe some day I will learn it, and then update this post. Hold your breath for that. #itsbeenthreeyearsandistilldidntdoit
At any rate, let’s see how the basic point holds up without the syntactic support of not-quite-chiasmus.
“The identity of who hurt you and how they did it isn’t important, as long as you don’t forget that there are also people who make you happy!”
“It’s important to remember to smile after you’ve been hurt by abuse, and also that you remember to give humble li’l me sufficient credit for making you do it. Smile, that is!”
“The experiences that shaped you aren’t as important to me as the warm, fuzzy feelings I want you to be having right now!”
“Happy is better than sad!”
We’ll just table cisheteronormativity for now. (Which, I know, is basically all day every day in so many contexts, but this blog post isn’t gonna fix all those. If I find compelling evidence that this image and message were created by queer folx for queer folx, I’ll certainly update some of my commentary.)
I just doubt that the creators of this image were progressive or intentionally transgressive with respect to gender, sexuality, or intimate relationships. I think we’re safe to read this as a stylized rendering of a passionate cis-man-to-cis-lady embrace and also possibly they are getting married.
If this was a photo in this couple’s scrapbook, I would interpret the big ol’ heart sticker covering their faces as an effort to mask obvious tension, rather than as a cheerful decoration.
That dude just gives me bad vibes. I can’t read his body language as unaggressive.
He’s leaning down and leaning in. His hug looks restraining, and she kind of looks like she’s pushing back on his chest.
On a side note, when I looked for animated gifs à la Pepé le Pew, I was surprised at the frequency of this same posturing: taller man on left, leaning down, arms constraining if not restraining, lady looking up and backing away.
Anyway, it turns out that it can matter that you were hurt and that you are ready to smile at the same damn time. The latter doesn’t cancel out the former.
It’s entirely reasonable to be suspicious of people who are aggressively insistent that you have to “get over it, already.”
And it’s entirely reasonable to remember that you can take the credit for learning to smile again all for yourself.
I’d argue that there’s a difference between “reframing” and “denial,” and that this macro captures the importance of that distinction.
A reframe for “I’m worried” can be as simple as “I feel worried right now because I don’t have a sense of control over a situation that really matters to me. I know that this feeling will pass and that it will probably happen again.”
Instead of not complaining at all, maybe something like, “I want to examine the source of my irritation when I feel calmer to decide whether it was a defensive response or if it is really important to address.” It can be worthwhile to reframe the urge to complain, but it depends entirely on the situation. Sometimes complaints are necessary for change to happen, and in those cases people who offer gratitude as an alternative to frustration often want stasis, power, or both.
I might counter the suggestion to “keep going” with the words of one Kenny Rogers: “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away.” Persistence without purpose isn’t necessarily laudable. A reframe might just be a pause: “If can make it through the next five minutes, I can check in with myself again.”
The message on the macro could be paraphrased as, “Don’t stress, don’t whine, don’t rest!”
If you are experiencing a common response to a trying situation, STOP! Do something else instead.
That’s how you do healthy.
Ungood feelings are definitely not appropriate responses to inappropriate circumstances. Your feelings are wrong and they need to be corrected.
If you haven’t learned to eliminate your human stress response by praying, then you’re really just asking for an ulcer.
If you can’t solve a huge systemic problem by practicing individual gratitude, you’re really just an ungrateful leech.
If you haven’t managed to persevere in the face of overwhelming resistance, were you even really trying?
I just don’t know why so many anxious and depressed people miss these obvious solutions to simple problems.
Life is mysterious, I tell ya.
With respect to the image:
I don’t know that “Thank god I remembered to bring my big red umbrella today so I can finish this shitty winter beach walk” should really be the takeaway here, and yet it seems to be supported by the text.
It’s okay to give up on your walk that turned out to be windier than expected.
As always, I grant that there is often a nugget (or more) of valuable insight tucked into the questionable folds of these macros.
So I’ll affirm the message that your authentic self has inherent value.
But enough of that talk.
Do you really want to hang out with anyone who goes around designating whole-ass humans as “right” and “wrong”?
“Don’t change . . . and the right people will love you.”
I can’t help reading “change is bad” as the dominant message, when “you deserve love” is probably a more salient takeaway.
I get that the macro aims to convey a simple message. “Right” people will naturally gravitate to other “right” people, who love each other as they are. But this also implies the existence of “wrong” people with the “wrong” kind of love, and dang.
That just doesn’t hold water.
Sometimes, the “wrong” people can sound a lot like the “right” people because they are enabling you to suck and/or to not really be yourself.
Sometimes self-proclaimed “right” people, who give you lots of supportive lip service, secretly thrive on shaming you from their high, high horses (and I mean tall-type high, y’all, not stoned ponies).
A lot of change-resistant folx like to invoke the defense that “I’m just being who I am / telling it like it is!” when they’re really just being intransigent assholes.
Sometimes, changing in response to the fact that people don’t like you is called “growth.”
There are always people with a vested interested in your being ignorant, downtrodden, demotivated, and dependent, and so they don’t want you to grow.
And those people just might be your family and friends, whose opinions may seem exactly like the “right” ones to value.
Those apparently “right” people might be the loudest about delivering the words to your ears that “they love you just how you are,” without bothering to specify that what they love about how you are is your willingness to permit them to suck and/or not grow.
“Be yourself” is not necessarily bad advice, but don’t fool yourself into believing that you never need to change or that “right” people even exist.
In terms of the image chosen to accompany this quote, I feel like a coffee-maker should be participating in the good times.
I mean, we’ve got toast and toaster together. Coffee and coffee-maker feels like a natural parallel, right?
The coffee is just personified by its vessel, though.
I wonder why toast is a sentient entity, but coffee is not.
Granted, I’m not aware of any liquids with personalities, but none of these characters are technically living things anyway, so at that point I don’t see why a solid state is a necessary criterion for a face.
They also all have exactly the same face, and I’m struggling with that.
It is a very cheerful face, for what it’s worth.
Anyway, when you think about it, toast is really just bread that has changed to be better liked by those who encouraged it to change in the first place.
The bread / toast depicted here always had intrinsic value, but its appliance buddies certainly seem thrilled with the outcome of the toasting.
Does this technically make them the wrong people (or people-like things) for pressuring their bread friend to change according to their preference? Or are they the right people-like things because they love that the toast is being its authentic self?
We can’t know if the bread became toast with the goal of being better liked by the coffee mug and toaster (and I question whether the toaster is able to recognize the influence of its own cultural bias).
If the bread decided to change just to earn the shallow approval of its judgey friends, then the message is kind of like, “Have a little self-respect, Bread.”
But if the change was motivated by truth-to-self rather than desire for popularity, it’s good that the appliances approve of the change, right? “Yay for Toast!”
Where does our ability to evaluate motive begin and end?
All we know for sure is that the visible impact of Bread’s choices is that it is now Toast.
Everyone looks happy, but that doesn’t mean everyone is happy.
I really want to believe that Giant Coffee Mug isn’t judging Toast because of its own projected shame.
I want to believe that Toast is living its best life, surrounded by its supportive friends.
In that case, we all deserve the kind of love that Toast has.
Granted that joy is just a lifestyle choice that’s unconnected to circumstance, I still kind of wish that @mindfulfitness didn’t have to flaunt their joyfulness all the time.
You’re joyful. I get it. Keep shoveling.
Unless there’s a possibility that joyfulness isn’t any more of a lifestyle choice than sadness?
And that real people who experience real joy in their daily lives are actually less likely to make a big deal about it than aggressively sad people?
And maybe really joyful people aren’t secretly trying to get everyone to fall in line with their nefarious pro-shoveling agenda?
And real people who experience real sadness, frustration, and apathy can actually just not be super into snow without channeling their misguided and possibly jealous resentment toward their more joyful neighbors?
That kind of holds up.
Maybe it’s okay to talk about your joy or sadness and it doesn’t necessarily mean you made better or worse choices than anyone else.
But then how am I supposed flaunt my emotional superiority?
I’m gonna try to be funny, but I honestly almost burst some blood vessels when I first read this.
Just so we’re clear, my right eyeball nearly exploded because I am bad at having responses to things that exist.
Not because of the way that this image macro is.
The fact that it’s possible for humans to persevere in the face of unfavorable circumstances is inspiring.
And it’s fair to remember that our knee-jerk responses to upsetting situations do not always dictate the most reasonable course of action.
But it is a slippery, slippery slope that slides us from “be mindful of your reactions” to “if the way life exists around you creates negative feelings inside of you, then your feelings are the real problem.”
The latter interpretation is especially popular among folx who want to rationalize the inevitability of structural and systemic issues like poverty.
“Those people who are struggling are just having bad responses to normal circumstances, and people who are successful have better responses!”
Across all situations, any dissatisfaction you ever feel is just a problem with your feelings-haver.
Sexism isn’t limiting your career. It’s your rage about patriarchy that’s holding you back! So relax.
Climate change isn’t stressful. Your house just happens to sometimes get in the way of naturally-occurring disasters, so you should really be grateful that you have a house! Just breathe deep.
Homophobia isn’t preventing you from adopting children. It’s your choice to prioritize your own life goals over the unfounded anxiety of random straight people! Go ahead and chill.
Your poverty isn’t preventing upward social mobility. You’re just poor because of your choice to not cope more effectively with your chronic depression, which is unrelated to your poverty! Smile for once.
Racism isn’t making people call the police on you for existing in a public space. It’s your conscious decision to not have a better attitude about the possibility that those people might have to want to call the police on you for co-existing in their space that’s really the problem! Ease up.
The picture here feels like a Photoshop tutorial.
Like, “Find a background and two images, and combine them!”
So, as an outcome of an exercise like that: “okay job, Photoshopper!
Some of those edges are crisp, and I am comfortable pretending that the butterfly isn’t sitting on a flower!