Thursday, October 31, 2013

Words, language, tone, I would agree with you but you are an ass...

Okay, so the title to this blog is more of a list, but that's what you are in for right now.

I always pay attention to words, word choice, meaning, all of that good stuff. It's not a shock to you that I do this, it is part of who I am. And it also is the source of much frustration at times because I'm not sure why no one else is paying attention. For instance the word entitlement. Did you shudder? It's gotten a pretty bad rep from people on the conservative side of our (meaning the USA) political spectrum. Oh those entitlements! How dare people feel they are entitled to that! But did you know what an entitlement is? I'll give you a hint, its synonym is right. You have a right. It's your right. How would you feel if the Second Amendment fell under the Bill of Entitlements, would it change your thought process about it? A right is something you are legally or morally entitled to. Entitlements and Rights. Same thing, thought of completely differently. Just because of the tone people have used when saying one over the other.

Rights! This is my Right! And the angels sing and the inspirational music plays! I am entitled to this! This is my entitlement! And the wa waa sound is made and the crying baby is heard in the background. But they are the same thing. It's just how you've been conditioned to hear them.

And what happens if you are in a discussion with someone who doesn't hear things the way you do? I was listening to a story about coal transportation this week. Basically one group wants to be the port to ship coal to China for their use and one group opposes it. Job creation versus environmental protection is how it's being framed. If the port is set up for transportation then people will need to work there, but the concern is if the trains are running coal through the town and in to the port the resulting coal dust is going to be an issue. It's more complex than that but I'm not here to debate this point, I want to get to an argument I heard and the absolute confusion of the two people arguing. On one side was a woman who stated it was an issue with people being able to do what they want with their own land. On the other side was a man who said it wasn't her land to decide what to do with. Even though the tracks ran through part of land she owned.

So I thought, now that's a group that would never see eye to eye. Those that believe you can own the land and those that believe you cannot. Why do you own land? Because someone sold it to you. But how did they have the right to sell it to you? Because someone else sold it to them. And how did they have that right? And eventually you get back to to beginning of someone deciding that since they were there first it was theirs. Or the government saying you get this piece of land, now it's yours. But if you really believe that the land was here first and cannot be owned by someone, and really how ridiculous to think you can own the land you are sitting on, do you own the air you breath? The rain that falls on your head? The sunbeams? The wind? Land rights versus the sense of entitlement that because you were there first it's yours. (see what I did there with rights and entitlements) And I have to admit I would be in the I own it camp. Though I can see how silly it is for me to think that I do, when I die any land I own might be passed along to future generations but they will just be borrowing it as well.

So we have words and the fact that they mean things but we don't pay attention to what they really mean. We have concepts that mean one thing to you and another to me like ownership.

Oh and here is another one! What if you are talking to someone and they say something that they think is really negative but you think it's great? I had one of these the other day. A friend shared a status from someone else "What one generation tolerates the next accepts." What do you think of that? Is it positive or negative? It struck me as a good thing. My generation started down the path of tolerating gay people. C's generation accepts that sexual orientation has nothing to do with what sort of person you are. Toleration to acceptance in one generation. Woo hoo! This is excellent! But they looked at it as a negative. If you tolerate bad language in your generation then bad language is the accepted language in the next. And that sort of thing. Hmmm...okay. I can see that. But I viewed it as a positive progression instead of a negative one.

Oh! And there's another one, progressive. I had someone spit that at me like it was an insult. You are a progressive! Well thank you! I really do try. Much better than being regressive and preferable to being stuck. I also don't think it's insulting when people call me out on changing my mind on an issue. I have changed my mind on a lot of issues. When you know more your opinion should change. It can be more evidence that you were right in the first place so you feel on solid ground, or you might find out that you were wrong. It's the people who are resolute and never change that I worry about. What are they doing with all of the new information coming their way on a daily basis? It doesn't make you a hypocrite to change your mind. Being a hypocrite is saying one thing and doing another.

And what about tone? Or even accents? How does that add or subtract from your understanding of people? Brent and I were watching an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives the other night and they were in Albuquerque. The woman who owned the restaurant had a solid Albuquerque accent. Her sentences ended in a lilt, it's not a lilt like a Southern thing, but we almost sing the ends of sentences back home. It's not something I really noticed until I had been gone for awhile. And vowels are different. I turns into E. Instead of a Philly sandwich she made a Pheely. She did say sandwich instead of sangwich though...


I don't have much of an accent. I didn't even when we lived there. My parents are Midwestern, my siblings were older when they moved so their accents are more in line with my parents (warsh instead of wash). But when I was hanging out with my friends there were phrases that were just said with a certain intonation that is pure New Mexico. Eeeeee, orale, umbers...And phrases..I know, right? That's directly descendant of It's all bad, no? Those are the changes I've made over the years. I've dropped the all qualifier. I've changed no to right. Sometimes if I'm trying really hard you can hear the difference between pin and pen when I say them. But if I am home for any length of time my bags all become begs, my rights become nos and my Rs start to roll...

Okay, on to the last part of my random blog.

Voice. You've got your words and your tone and your meaning and your accents. What about voice? I mean this for writing specifically. When I write something I write in my voice. People that know me can actually hear me when they read. They know exactly how I sound and I write like I talk. My non-fiction voice is strongly my own voice.

I had three voice issues this week. One was in a fiction book. The author writes in first person. Which seems like it would be easy and it can be, except if you are switching between characters. This was the last book in a series and for the first two she wrote from one character's point of view. For the last she switched between two. She had a reason for it, I won't get in to that this isn't a book review, but it really bothered me. The reason was she hadn't given the second character a strong enough voice. He was the same as the other. So I would be reading along in a chapter and forget whose head I was in. They were too similar. If you are writing in first person your voice has to be strong. I can never forget who you are.

The second was a non-fiction group of essays. It was a closet book. These are books I have collected over the years that I am "getting" to. Finally this year I decided if they aren't read by January they are out of here, so I've made due diligence in clearing them out. Well anyway I'm reading this book and I don't like the author. He's spoiled. What is supposed to be amusing, I know it is, is coming across as pretentious. And I'm starting to wonder why in the heck I have this book of musings from someone I obviously don't like. Then as I was staring at the cover the author's name finally worked its way through my files and made the connection. David Rakoff.  David Rakoff. I love him. He was on This American Life. Very amusing, dry, funny. Okay, well now I have his voice in my head maybe I will like these essays more. I was obviously reading them with the wrong tone. But no, I could never capture the bemused, dry, witty, cadence he had in these writings. They still came across as pretentious and spoiled. I felt a little like I was betraying his memory, but his voice was just not there for me.

And then sometimes someone's voice is so strong you can't get past it to get to their message. There is a blogger/radio personality out there that drives me crazy because of this. I've read a lot of his posts because he appeals strongly to a demographic that is well represented on my friend list. And I try to make sure I am reading things people post, at least until I understand what I am going to see. If I know it's going to be something I won't be able to tolerate due to experience I skip it (Bill Maher and Ann Coulter for instance) and this guy is quickly falling in to this camp.  Because see, even when I agree with his main point I cannot bear his blog. His voice is that strong. And his voice is condescending asshole. He's pretty sure he has the world figured out (though he does the whole false modesty shit A LOT) and takes some pretty strong stances on things that are not as black and white as he would like them to be. He dismisses personal anecdotes from other people while holding his own experiences as infallible. It's hard to take.

Oh he's just snarky people say! Well, snark is tough. Trust me, I have experience here. (And all the readers go no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no...) The problem with snark is that if you present it as fact you come across as an ass. If you decide that you are right and any one who disagrees with you is obviously a brain dead sheep you are an ass. If you are completely unwilling to accept that the world is a complex place and there are very difficult things out there that people are dealing with because you are fine and you made it okay then you are an inconsiderate ass.

A few weeks ago a friend of mine posted a blog of his where he mentions in the blog he doesn't understand why strangers who read his work think he would be an ass in real life (paraphrasing). Umm, dude, read your blogs.

So this brings us to this week. He posted about something that if I had been given an outline of I would say, Yes! I agree with this person! But then I read the blog and could feel my jaw tightening. I had to tell another friend that I am glad that he is getting a message out there (basically we shouldn't look to medicate our kids for being kids, and being a little different than the crowd is a good thing) but I just wish it wasn't done in his way. Because I found myself tearing apart his argument by the end of the blog. And I agree with him! But the way he presented it? Too strong of a voice.

And how often does that happen in real life? I had a job once where I swore I needed to add interpreter to my job description. Because I would sit in our conference room while our owner would say one thing, another member of our staff would say the SAME thing just in a different way and they would argue over who was right. They couldn't hear each other over their tone, or voice, or preset thoughts. So I would have to say, well, I think that...blah, blah, blah is a great idea. And they would both recognize that blah, blah, blah was their own brilliant idea that I was backing and everyone would leave happy.  Well except for me who was left in the conference room pounding my head against the table...

And that brings us to the end of my list of random thoughts about communication that have been bouncing in my head all week. It's kind of amazing that we understand each other at all isn't it?

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