Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What's Going On? Help!!!

"You hear that all the time don't you?"

I just nodded. A few seconds before I backed, carefully, onto the elevator we were now both riding. He said, cheerily, "Bet you wish you had those back up beepers, don't you?" As if that weren't enough he made a couple 'beep beep' sounds. It's a laugh riot, I'll tell you. I didn't say anything, I just gave him a weak smile.

"I knew it when I said it that it was a stupid thing to say, but I couldn't stop myself," he said while I thought, "yes you can."

After a few moments silence he started up again. "People always say to me, 'How's the weather up there?' or 'Can you see my house from up there?' It's never funny, it's always annoying and I just did the same thing to you." I then looked up at him and, indeed, he was very, very, tall. I said, "Yeah, I don't find it funny either, in fact, to be honest, it's irritating. But I tell myself that people are just trying to find a way to connect."

Another few moments of silence, "I don't see it that way at all. I see it as very sophisticated name-calling. I always feel centred out or pointed at when people say those things. I don't see them as a way of connecting I see them as a way of distancing."

And we arrived at my destination, he was going a few floors further down. I wished him a good day, he gave me another quick apology and I was on my way.

This conversation has stayed with me.

Troubled me a bit.

So I come to you ... those of you who get the same 'jokes' over and over and over again - how do you see them? Help me out here - is he right?


Leah Spring said...

I think, in a situation like the elevator, the person is finding a way to be "friendly" or make conversation, and maybe it's someone who prefers humor to doing so, not realizing that humor could be offensive. If only people felt just as comfortable saying, "Hi there! Welcome to this fantastic elevator! t's been a great ride so far." Find some humor in the situation, not in the people involved in the situation.

WateredHeavenWithSpears said...

Like most things in life, I think it really depends on the situation and the people involved.

I also think that when you've been teased and bullied consistently and chronically, you develop a sixth sense for determining whether someone's being genuine or not. Sometimes, though, I think that we miscalibrate our sensitivity meters, not because we're being (as we've been told too many damned times) too sensitive, but because the cost of trusting others to say what they mean and mean what they say is too great *not* to be guarded.

With that preface, in this particular case, I would take his words at face value. Problem is, sometimes the offhanded comments are very calculated forms of social violence, and other times it's a case of foot in mouth syndrome.

For the sake of my own well being, I've been trying to attribute poor behavior and inopportune remarks to ignorance rather than malice, but when the line is blurred, and you've heard the joke so many darned times you can see it coming a mile away, it's hard.

FunMumX3 said...

For sure it has to be a spectrum ranging from true desire for connection right through to calculated social violence. And all points in between.

With Down syndrome, it's the "they are such happy children" thing that irks me no end and probably falls in to the overgeneralization spot on said spectrum. I seem to react to it worst when I have been on the receiving end of a PMS induced, teenage-drama, over tired, ranty pants hissy fit from Ms 18.

Dawn Roper said...

Elevator talk is always awkward. People who don't know each other are forced to stand too closely in each other's personal space. Then there is the silence. I think people say something, anything, to break the silence and connect somehow to make that space violation more livable.

I've been patted on the head and teased about being short for much of my life. It can be irritating, but usually I think its just silly. I feel bad for the tall man who feels it is cruel. I think that if you go out there looking for offence, you will always find it.

Anonymous said...

discomfort with silence is a disability . . . can we cut him some slack??

Unknown said...

I don't think they're quite the same classes of irritating remark.

"I bet you wish" suggests an attempt to enter your world that fraction which strangers with good will do, when thrown together. Nine times out of ten, I;d put that down to a clumsy attempt to connect, in a moderately neutral way (albeit not quite as neutral as it aims to be, in that it refers to something which distinguishes you, and probably isn't chosen).

"How's the weather up there?" is also annoyingly repetitious, also refers to a not-chosen distinguishing characteristic - and represents the opposite of an attempt to enter the tall person's world. Obviously the weather isn't different 'up there'.

Even if it's intended as bonhomous pleasantry, as thoughtless remarks often are, the effect is distancing. It sounds lonely "up there".

Dave Hingsburger said...

Anon, I don't need to cut him slack because the blog isn't about the comment he made to me, it's about what HE SAID about those kind of remarks. If anything I'm honouring his perception because me made me think about things in a new way. The question is, in this blog, do others see it the way he does?

Maggie said...

I suspect that I see it as very sophisticated name-calling, centering me out or pointing at me, when it's the two or three things strangers seem to 'always' say.

And I think when I'm the one saying something trite my experience is that I'm trying to connect, imagining that my attempt at humor will make that connection.

Probably both times I am partly wrong and partly right.

As with stupidly racist casual comments, I suspect the uncomfortable things i say come from some combination of 'trying to say something nice' and 'focusing on what's top-of-mind in my awareness' ( which is likely to be 'how is this person different from me' rather than anything more interesting or friendly.


GirlWithTheCane said...

As others have said, I think it depends on the people involved.

But even when people are being sincerely friendly, it can leave wounds.

Tough call.

Anonymous said...

I think it's name calling under the attempted disguise of being funny or making conversation. We aren't supposed to get mad about it. We aren't supposed to take it "so seriously" or be "so sensitive". I think that people on the receiving end have tollerated the comments because they are veiled, but he's right, they are distnacing. They're hurtful. Perhaps even more damaging than outright name calling because of how often we don't stand up for ourselves. We excuse the person, cut them slack and fake a small smile, leaving us dissatified with how we handled it.

wheeliecrone said...

Is he right? Well, yes, he is.

Laura said...

Since I mostly only get that from people my granddad's age (over 80) I have never seen it as anything more the people who don't know what to say to start a conversation. It still bugs me some days but then they usually go on to tell me how they know how hard it is to move slower then most and they feel like maybe its too hard. And often I'm told that seeing me use my scooter makes them wonder about getting one of there own. That never makes me feel bad because my scooter brings me amazing independence and I am glad to share about how it's helping me to stay active in what otherwise would be very physically hard situations. Just my 2 cents

B. said...

Sometimes I prefer some attempt at communication instead of the uncomfortable silence of a person afraid to speak to me at all.

Jayne wales said...

One of my brothers is very small. It is a constant greeting to him. Hi Shorty, Hi Tich etc. He is referred to as the tiny but brilliant or tiny but determined etc etc. at 50 he has learned to cope with it and just gets on with it. Like he says, I can't grow! But it's constant and it more than annoys me on his behalf. He would never dream of making personal comments about others physical appearance. So I do think it can be draining. I agree some people are just wanting to connect and they don't think things through and so their attempt is annoying at the least. My name attracts silly men saying me Tarzan. I have heard it so many times but they think they are the first to say it. Yes weak smile ! I heard a mother say once she called her kid four eyes because she wanted to get him used to it! I nearly died at the stupidity of that!
So I think we may have to look at how we deal with this. Could be an interesting master class subject, an interactive one Dave?

Jayne wales said...

Just another thought. I remember a black woman who was my boss saying o me that these small things just add up. She said they were like " small murders" and she said eventually you are so angry you flip and it may not have been a really bad thing that you flip out at. It all added up to that scream!

WateredHeavenWithSpears said...

I think this addresses Jayne's comment well.

Sorry it's so long, but the point is so embedded in the longer post that it's impossible to find otherwise.

I often explain microaggressions to people by using water as a metaphor. Marginalized folk are often subject to both unintentional and intentional forms of non-violent aggression at work, at school, on public transportation, on television, in their homes, from their family members, and from their closest friends. They’re never big moments; they’re subtle, nuanced, and often last maybe a few seconds. But imagine that every comment that someone makes about the color of a person’s skin, or relies on a stereotype, or demonizes the “ghetto,” or values white skin over brown skin, or whatever other example I could give, imagine if each comment is akin to having on ounce of water dumped on your head. The first comment is unpleasant. It may wake you up. It may make you uncomfortable. But it’s an ounce. Often times, you can just walk away from. However, in a social setting, you may hear eight different slightly unnerving things about women, about the poor, about race, about mental disability, and now someone’s poured a cup of water on your head. You can’t ignore how that feels. By the end of the day, you might have a Starbucks Venti (20 oz) dumped over you. Or a quart. Or, in a particularly hostile setting at work or a convention or somewhere in public or while watching the news, you might have a gallon poured on you. So when someone says that this shit doesn’t matter, that we need to learn to have a thicker skin, I immediately want to dump a gallon of water on their head and ask them to get a thicker skin. That’ll keep the cold out, right?

From this site:

Anonymous said...

I think its mostly social awkwardness not malice when its strangers, and stupid 'jokes' annoy me less than the 'whats wrong with you then?' type questions.

On another note,I DO often wish I had a reverse beep beep beeper on my chair,and a horn that sounds like a horn. I also wish for a button on the chair that could play back a series of responses to silly things other people say to me,I reckon a talking chair could get away with saying far more than the person in it can and maybe people would stop and think in future.

Tamara said...

I think that intent is usually a decision the receiver makes. Words can be misinterpreted. Granted, there are times when there are non-verbals which provide some very strong clarity; and if you know the person, you might be clear about their intent. But, in general, judging someone's intent based on one sentence isn't very useful.

I wonder if he thought about your interpretation as much as you thought about his.

Anonymous said...

I think it’s a way of distancing and connecting at the same time.
Connecting- through friendly social interaction. But bcos it’s with someone who is different, different in a way that the speaker would not like to be, they also need to maintain distance. So the microaggressions creep in.
It’s like when close friends get around to saying to me, I don’t think of you as different! Clearly they do think I’m different in some way otherwise they wouldn’t make the comment about NOT thinking of me as different.
So i think you and the tall guy are both right.

Mary said...

For me, situations is a big part of it.

Wiggling into a lift, or in other tight corners, people say some stupid things while they wait for me to complete a manoeuvre, but I think mostly it is because they're just seeking a way of indicating "I have seen you and I have registered what you are doing," and it's often paired with body language that indicates they are trying to be considerate of the space I need.

Their words may be clumsy, poorly-thought-out, insensitive, and it would be nice to not have to deal with it, but I don't interpret it as hostile.

Certainly I'd rather have someone standing still, smiling, and saying something daft about reverse beepers, than someone silently frowning and trying to squeeze past me, or tutting, or trying to rush me in other ways.

The comments that bang my drum are the ones where an interaction would NOT usually occur. Phrases that are a silly daft comment in a lift become incredibly offensive when they are, for instance, yelled from a park bench as you roll past.

Anonymous said...

How hard is it to say: "Hi, nice weather ourside, I sure hate riding in elevators". :D I was taught when I was a young child that commenting on any aspect of anyone's personal appearance is rude, end of story. Of course, I know most of these people are not TRYING to be rude, so I treat them as if their momma's didn't teach them properly and respond politely. If they are someone I see more than once, or who I have to engage with socially, I will usually pull them aside and talk to them, gently.