Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Each To Their Own

On the topic of choices, there is a common, and well-intentioned way of dismissing choices, and that is to say "each to their own" or "whatever floats your boat" or similar. We are saying in effect, "your choice is not my choice, but it does no harm, so you have my permission to carry on". Like they need it!

I say well-intentioned, because most people are sincere when they say it. Some are being sarcastic. What they really mean is "I think you are quite mad, but I'm avoiding conflict".

Either way, it is actually dismissive. It would be far more honest to admit you disagree.

It is OK to disagree. We forget this. In our efforts to be polite OR politically correct (which are not the same thing) or just to avoid argument, we often shrug off differences. Sometimes it does more harm than good. Resentments can build up if you let them.

In my circles what you commonly hear is "it wouldn't be my choice, but I can see it's just right for you". My mother was very good at that one. She would hardly ever criticize anyone, but she wasn't a person to pretend she approved when she didn't. Her reasoning? "If you pretend you like something that you don't, you run the risk of people remembering that, and then using that information to select gifts, and it would waste their money and cause more harm than being honest about it in the first place."

Yep. And that stuck with me. It has led me to vociferously state the things I REALLY don't like when a neutral occasion arises, to make sure people around me know. Doesn't always work. People forget. Why should they remember? Interestingly if you say it enough so that they can't forget you will get into trouble for "going on and on about that again". We are funny beings.

The point is, that if you can find a way to express distaste tactfully, it's not only perfectly good etiquette, but a solid idea.

I hate hostas. Hate them. HATE THEM. I call them space lettuces. They look like something from Planet Zarg. They have tiny insignificant flowers and otherwise just sit there being green.

Some people love them, collect them, etc. There are hosta fans.

If I say "I hate hostas" to a hosta fan, I get some really weird reactions. It's the full range of classic reactions to just about any expression of distate, so it makes a great example. Here are some typical ones.

"Why?" (Genuine bewilderment)

"What have they ever done to you?!" (Make particular note of that one. It means "they are harmless", proof that even people who don't know they have harm as a guiding light, still do.)

"Oh, I do, I want more." (Not bothered, just stating their case in return. No hard feelings.)

"Well, they fill space, saves me a lot of work. Seems a shame to pull them up." (Being practical.)

"They were here when I moved in, I've never really liked them much, mumble, mumble...." (Insecure/intimated by strong opinions.)

HURT LOOK. (Taking it personally, as if I was referring to their children)

And so on. But I don't think we'd ever fall out over it. It's just a plant, FFS.

Now, if instead I were to say:

"I hate chihuahas."

There would be added bad feeling due to it being an animal. Not quite like insulting their children......... or maybe worse in some cases, thinking about it, but certainly more intense reaction than a plant. You can lose friends that way.

If I said:

"I hate Boy Scouts"

Then I'd be on really dodgy ground. That's almost smear campaign material.

Not only are some people more sensitive than others, some things are more sacred than others. An awareness here can save a lot of pain.

My husband, whose tact is limited to avoiding racist remarks right in front of people of colour, and is known and loved (or hated) for his frankness and honestly (he should have been a Yorkshireman really "By 'eck you know where you stand wi' me!") is pretty famous for hating hockey. It has got him into trouble a few times. "And more fool you" I think to myself. Cause and effect. He's a big boy and comes to no harm when he opens his mouth and gets told to shut it again. So I leave him to it.

But based on what I see happening there, I tried an experiment. In an online group I belong to which is overwhelmingly male, I uttered the words "I hate hockey".

I got told I simply didn't understand it, that it was very popular, that the teamwork and self-discipline, not to mention the physical workout was good for kids, and that it was incredibly skilled, and I shouldn't dismiss that. Basically I got set upon. And the NICER ones said "Hey, to each his own". The upshot was that I was told, in no uncertain terms, that  my opinion was not valid. Well, it really isn't.

We moved on.

I let some time pass. I uttered the words "I love ballet". They scoffed. They made fun of the male dancers. They claimed it was a waste of money. Did I KNOW about the damage to the feet? They said it was old-fashioned, pointless, and boring.

I said  they simply didn't understand it, that it was very popular, that the teamwork and self-discipline, not to mention the physical workout was good for kids, and that it was incredibly skilled, and they shouldn't dismiss that.

Nobody said "to each his own". Do you know why? Majority rules, that's why.

(I don't really like ballet, BTW, but I think it deserves equal respect to hockey. Personally I'd rather watch paint dry than watch either of them, but that's not even relevant.)

But I have to say, all things considered, if there's one thing I'm sure of, it's that opinions have less to do with what's said, than the way it's said. And either way, some opinions are just not popular. You could actually start a war over the colour green if enough people held it sacred, because the thing that is sacred is not the thing, if you see what I mean. The thing is that when the majority (or the loudest person) has a preference, that wins.

The world would be a better place if those with an opinion stated it politely, and those who didn't share that opinion accepted it gracefully, which is of course what etiquette is all about. So why doesn't this happen?

From my observations, people confuse their opinions and choices with their own value. They hear something negative about one of their choices or opinions, but they hear something different to what is being said. They effectively feel persecuted.

So, when somebody says "I really don't like cowboy boots", a person hearing or reading that who wears cowboy boots is suddenly offended. The words were clear enough "I really don't like cowboy boots", but what they "hear" is "I really don't like people who wear cowboy boots." It wasn't said, and it wasn't intended. But now somebody's feelings are hurt.

If you love and wear cowboy boots, do you need everyone else to like them? Why? Are you not secure in your own choices? Would you prefer we PRETEND to like cowboy boots? Is that what you want? No? You want to convert us to cowboy boots?

Somewhere behind all this is an unspoken, possibly even unaware, desire for others to think like us, choose like us, be like us. It leads to a cycle of dishonesty, disappointment, and hurt. All it takes to break that cycle is an awareness of what's going on.

I won't judge you if you grow hostas. Promise.

1 comment:

  1. We not only tend to deflect an honest answer, from the gist of your examples, we tend to personalize a thing--whether it is plan, animal, or action. Rather than call into question our own reaction to the comment being said, our own reflection comes forth as questionable and something we ought to challenge. This is where the little conversations that roll around in our head come from, I think...all the "shouldda-wouldda-coulddas" which, quite honestly, take some time to develop and come to fruition. Ultimately, we might find we have more in common than not...AND that maybe we can let a lot of our personal prejudices/judgments go once we find out they do not matter.

    Talk about causing less harm...we can start with ourselves. <3 ~ Blessings!