Things to never say...

                I am always trying to improve myself… and I mean legitimately trying to become a better person.  No matter how much of a “good man” I think I am, I do always want to strive to be better.  To be a stronger, more supportive person, who is able to create a safe space wherever they go.  I don’t expect to be perfect, but there’s always something I can work on.

                So, one day, I started thinking of phrases to never say.  Statements of complete jerkwadiness that really don’t help anyone when they’re being said.  Yes, I am talking about self-censorship.  I don’t think this is a bad thing.  It has nothing to do with “political correctness”, which is a concept that is oddly argued these days.  

I’m not fully sure on my own thoughts on it, currently… but I generally equate it to simply having respect for a fellow human being.  There are comedians I very much respect who refer to it as us not being allowed to laugh anymore, or let anyone get offended.  I think that’s an extreme form they are referring to, again, one I haven’t completely articulated for myself.  I think you can laugh at anything, and still not be disrespectful... and any of those comedians that have made those arguments, I don’t think I’ve ever considered to be “politically incorrect”, anyway.  The stuff I find objectionable is where a person is intentionally trying to be hurtful.  For instance, to joke about a Transgender person, and how hard it is to find comfortable heels in a size 14-wide, is one thing… but to “joke” about invading a public bathroom to beat a Transgender within an inch of their life… is another thing altogether.  One is Seinfeld-like observational humor… the other is openly advocating killing people.  I think it’s clear to see which one is crossing the line.  So, when certain people complain about political-correctness, I think they believe that they can’t make ANY jokes… which I don’t think is the case.  Yet, when certain others complain about it… it’s because they’re upset that they can’t be complete assholes anymore.

It also comes to the groups doing the complaining.  Transgenders would have a legit complaint if the humor is literally killing them (as it is in many places), but other groups do not, especially if the humor is merely opening them up to criticism (as in the case of many religious groups).  No group is absolved from legit criticism… and as long as that criticism isn’t flat-out bullying, then there shouldn’t be a problem.

But that may be for a future topic, anyway.  Here… I’ve formed this list, not because I’m looking to be “politically correct”, just that I’m looking to eliminate hurtful and abusive behaviors in my life.  So, trying to keep myself in check like this is one way I’m trying to do that.  These are statements that I believe are just completely useless, and do nothing but hurt others, needlessly.

“I told you so.”

                This is number one.  This is the first thing I thought of while making this list, and is probably the most useless thing that someone can say.  Obviously said after you’ve told someone some particular piece of advice, which they didn’t follow.  Or predicting something would happen, but the other person didn’t believe you.  Then, whatever you said happened to come true.  So you point out this reminder to the other person that this wasn’t surprising, and it could have been avoided, if they just listened to you.

                What makes this useless is the fact that doesn’t fix or help anything.  Reminding someone that “you were right”, doesn’t do anything more than to feed your own ego.  Now, you have “one-up” on them.  You were smart, they were dumb.  Even if you think, “Oh, that’s not how I intend it”… doesn’t matter.  That’s what is heard, that’s what is communicated.  It doesn’t help.

                The other person already knows, quite clearly, what they were told.  Since they just failed spectacularly at whatever was going on, they are already feeling horrible about that.  So, saying this is just piling it on, needlessly.  Don’t contribute to their misery, help them out by finding a solution.

                Truth is, that person did exactly what they were supposed to.  They looked at their situation, they heard your advice, and then (here’s the key) used their own judgment to evaluate things, and then make their ultimate decision.  That’s what adults do, that’s what we should all be doing.  Maybe they rejected your advice, and yes, they failed.  Humans do that.  We have failures, we make mistakes.  It’s going to happen many times in our lives.  Possibly, the next situation that comes around, the person may think, “hey… they were right about the last time, maybe I’ll take their advice this time.”

                But ironically, if you said, “I told you so” at any point during the “last time”, then there’s actually less of a chance of that happening.  Because we don’t want assholes in our life to be right.  We want to prove them wrong.  So, when you act like an asshole, and pile on the extra embarrassment, needlessly, then we are less likely to follow your future advice… almost solely out of a sense of rebellion.  Hoping and trying for the possibility that you are wrong.  

                Rest assured, you will be wrong at some point.  You will give advice that doesn’t pan out, and then you sure as hell won’t be saying, “I told you so.”  You’ll be hoping that THEY don’t say it to you.

“Not all men are like that.”

                This is something that comes up a lot in modern discussions about feminism.  99% of the time, it’s a guy who’s saying it.  Usually in response to a statement that sounds like a not-flattering generalization about the male gender.  “Hey… not all men are like that!”  Yeah, look… we KNOW that not all men are like that.  No one said that it applies to every single male on the planet.  Even for the statements that do sound like they are encompassing everyone, like… “Men are jerks!”  “Every guy is a cheater!”, etc.  Consider this… YOU clearly know that generalizations aren’t good, or correct.  That seems like an obvious thing, right?  Then be hip enough to think that THEY know that as well.  So even if it sounds like they say “every guy” is something or other… understand that they don’t truly think that every single male in this world, including their fathers, brothers, old friends, gay co-workers, or whatever is exactly like that.  Generalizations are made out of frustration… so just let them vent.  

                When you say, “Not all men are like that”, you’re really just trying to say, “I’M not like that!”  It’s trying to make it about yourself… and chances are, the issue at hand has nothing to do with you, and it’s not even your business.  You’re not actually standing up for anyone, here.  You really want to get across the point that “not all men are like that”?  Then *show* them you’re not like that.  Because when you try to “tell” them… it shows that you probably are.

“Calm down.”

                Probably the fastest way to get someone to go completely ballistic, frankly.  This is an area of “tone policing”, a silencing tactic.  In situations where someone is angry about something, to tell them to “calm down” is really just telling them you don’t want to listen to them be so passionate, because it’s uncomfortable.  It’s understandable you don’t want to be yelled at, but it tries to invalidate the other person’s emotions at that moment.  If someone is that angry and frustrated at something… the fact that they are angry and frustrated is central to that issue they’re talking about.  The fact that it makes them “not calm” is important.  Maybe you shouldn’t be comfortable right now, because otherwise, how will you understand what the not-calm person is going through?

                Let them vent.  I don’t care if your work or social position isn’t used to that kind of treatment, if you truly want the person to calm down, then they need to get out that built up energy.  But also pay attention to what they’re saying.  Just because it’s not being said calmly, doesn’t mean the message is invalid.  Plus, when the other person starts feeling like they are truly being listened to… then they actually have an easier time calming down.  Because they don’t feel like they have to fight to be understood, or be heard.  If they are assured that their anger, frustration, fear, or sadness is valid… you will get their trust and appreciation.  And people tend to be calm around folks they trust and appreciate.

“No offense, but…”

                Suggested from a friend of mine… often said right before something offensive is said.  Just don’t.

“I’m telling you this for your own good…”

                This one came from one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman, who was kind enough to respond to me on Tumblr with this contribution.  He wrote, “In my experience, someone who says, ‘I’m telling you this for your own good’… isn’t.”  Makes sense to me.

“I’m just being honest”

                This one also came from Tumblr, from adult actress Diana Prince (who’s blog is wonderfully geeky, and not reflective of her day-job, so it’s SFW… I think so, at least).  I agree with it… it’s often said so someone can feel like they’re excused for saying something cruel and useless for no reason.  Here’s another well-said source that refers to it as “Liar, Liar Honesty”.

“I’m not [racist/sexist/etc], but…”

                Always said right before something racist/sexist/etc is said.  A surefire sign that you should stop talking, right there.  As a variation, I’ve heard from my own family, “I don’t mean to sound cruel, but…” Then don’t.  Just don’t.  It’s remarkably easy to not sound cruel.

“It was just a joke.”

                One that clearly wasn’t funny.  If you have to clarify this in a conversation, maybe you should take a look at your sense of humor.  Often, it’s never “just a joke” anyway.

“Just to play Devil’s Advocate…”

                Another from a Tumblr contributor, and I’m slightly torn on it.  Yes, in everyday conversation it’s a complete douchebag move to do this.  Especially if you ever say, “Oh, I just like a good debate” (because only assholes go looking to have an argument with people, on purpose, without actually caring about discovering truth.  These “debaters” only care about winning, because it’s a hobby.)

                But as a teacher… I do find it’s a pretty good teaching technique for discussions, especially on artistic subjects.  Whatever position a student displays, take the opposing view, to force them to look from another angle, or more clearly support their own opinions.  (In Art, there’s no right or wrong answer, just opinions that are either supported or unsupported) I never *say*, “just to play Devil’s Advocate”, I just do it.  Since we stick to opinions, and not social issues or feelings… I think that gets a pass.

“With all due respect…”

                This one actually sounds like it’d be okay… but it tends to be a signal that something disrespectful is coming.

“You can choose to not let it get to you.” Or “You let them bother you.”

                This one, I think is particularly damaging.  It kind of shifts blame to the person it’s being said to.  So, the person who did that assholish thing isn’t to blame… it’s *my* fault because I’m the one upset?  Yeah, that’s horrible.

                Here’s a newsflash… we don’t “let” people bother us.  We don’t “allow” other people to hurt us.  But they do it anyway.  We can’t magically flip a switch in our brain that makes what they say or do any less hurtful.  But no one ever wants to say to the perpetrator, “Hey, stop being an asshole.”

                I shouldn’t be so sensitive, then?  Fuck you.  That’s not something I’m going to apologize for, and no one should ever apologize for actually feeling something.  Being too sensitive is better than being too numb.

“Just get over it.”

                A very useless statement that does absolutely nothing.  If someone is bothered by something… they can’t “just get over it”.  If they could, they would have by now.  When you say this, it’s only because you don’t want to hear this person vent, process, or do whatever they need to in an attempt to get over whatever it is they’re trying to get over.  You might hear, “Okay”, but no one is instantly healed by it.  All that happens is they learn to not tell you what’s bothering them.  It drives a wedge in relationships, that’s all.

                If you’re truly interested in helping them “get over it”, then try to dig down and figure out exactly why it’s bothering them so much in the first place.  Once you know that, you can actually help them to truly get passed it.  But that takes a bit more work, admittedly.

“I’m sorry you feel that way.”

                Oh, so you’re not actually sorry for the infraction you caused… you’re “sorry” that the other person is upset about it?  That’s not actually an apology.  Like the “you let it bother you”, this is simply shifting the blame to the other person, and not taking responsibility that what you did or said could have been construed as hurtful.  Maybe you don’t want to apologize because you know that your intentions were good, and they’re just misinterpreting it.  Few things about that… 1) Intentions are irrelevant.  All that matters is impact.  Saying something hurtful, even when you don’t “mean” it to be hurtful… doesn’t change that you said something hurtful.  2) Maybe it’s not that they’re “misinterpreting”… but maybe you’re not as clear and articulate as you think you are.

“They’re just looking for attention / …fishing for compliments.”

                This one confuses me… so, why not give them a compliment?  Give them some (positive) attention?  If the individual is clearly showing you what they need from you, in that moment… and especially if it only takes a quick second to fulfill their needs, why not?  What is so hard about giving a compliment, or showing a little attention?  Especially if it’s someone you claim to care about?

“Don’t be selfish.”

                This usually only ever seems to be said by people who are mad because you’re not doing what THEY want you to do.  Which is kind of ironic, as they’re acting quite selfish themselves in that moment… but they’re trying to make you feel guilty, all the same.  This just seems like manipulation to me.  I can see it being said to kids, if you’re trying to get them to play nice with others… but saying it in response because they’re defying YOU… that’s just plain manipulation.

“If you loved me...”

                Another form of pure manipulation.  “If you loved me, you’d do…” or “you’d want this for me” or “you wouldn’t do that”, etc.  You know what I’m talking about with this.  You’re qualifying someone’s love for you, and making them feel like they’re being tested.  “Well, if the way to prove my love is to do something I don’t want to…” or “let them do something completely damaging/stupid/dangerous”, etc.  That’s a recipe for abuse.  And frankly, it can be more than a bit rapey.  How many young people, who were not emotionally ready for it, lost their virginity because a sentence started with those words?

                “If you loved me…”, hey, if you loved ME, you wouldn’t put me in that awkward position in the first place.

                This one was a late addition… because I didn’t even think of it.  At first, I was knocking myself for not realizing it sooner.  But a good friend pointed out that it’s probably because I’m not the kind of person that would ever actually say it to someone.  I really hope they’re right.

                But that’s my current list.  I was given other suggestions, but some were really variations on one of these, or I couldn’t quite articulate what was so wrong with it in the first place.  Still, I’m always looking for suggestions to this list.  So, if you think of any… pop them in the comments below.

                Thanks for reading.