07 August, 2012

Playdate Update & Offering Help

Hey, Readers,

Here's another two-parter. This one is just an update from the last topic, and a new one I just wanted to write about briefly.

My friend and I went to a park to walk and talk and have a picnic. I brought my stuff in a bag, but when my friend showed up, he was carrying all his food! So instead of walking a mile, we started down the nearest trail and stopped at the first bench we came across to have our picnic. We ended up not budging from that bench with our snacks for SIX HOURS, because, well, we both talk a lot. I think it's funny how we seamlessly covered all our mutual big topics, flowing from gay rights to religion to theatre to our recent trips to London to religion in London and theatre in London to working with kids in theatre to theatre about religion and theatre about gay rights. I didn't record any of our conversation, because that would be weird. I was going to take video of our walk, but like I said, we didn't do any more walking. We left after dark from that same bench. So I'm afraid there's no video and no mind-blowing discoveries were made for me to share. But we had a nice time. Next time, maybe we'll actually walk. =P

This is something that bothers me a lot, and applies to any subject matter. It's the question of when to offer help and when not to. There are a few situations I can think of:

  • A person asks for help and opinions. In that case, it's accepted that you offer it. They want to hear from you. Help is appreciated.
  • A person does not ask for help or opinions but you have something interesting to say, so you offer it up casually. Maybe it turns out to be new to them and they thank you for the information.
  • A person does not ask for help or opinions but you say something to say, so you offer it up as though you assume they don't know, or correct them. As it turns out, they do know it, so it seems like you're condescending to them or telling them what to do. This is not appreciated.
    • Sometimes you can do this without sounding condescending, by wording your un-asked-for input as a personal story. You might mention how you experience something, or what you think, without ever sounding like you're correcting the person or assuming what they know.
    • Some people also begin input with "I don't know if you already know this, but I think/heard/etc. ..." or "I know you probably know this but maybe someone else could benefit from my view."
Most of the time, people comment with the second kind of thing, or the last thing--something interesting, or something they admit that I might know but they want to say it anyway. Recently someone mentioned something in a video, saying "I'm sure you already know this, so what is your opinion on..." and because they were polite, I admitted that I had not known about the particular thing. I don't mind admitting when I don't know, but generally if I don't know, I ask others to help out.

Other times, people's comments are really insulting even though they clearly don't mean to be. (Sometimes they do mean to be, but mostly they don't. They just mean to help and haven't thought about what they're saying.) When I get such a comment, it's hard for me to get really mad because I know they don't mean to be rude, but at the same time I feel a need to explain that they could really say things in a much better way, or not say anything at all. Here are some examples of these types of comments that are really hair-prickling:
  • "You should not do this because I believe it's wrong." My beliefs =/= Your beliefs. I don't do me for you.
  • "You should not do this because you're a woman and women should not do that. Men can, however." Please do not place gender roles on people. I am much more polite than some women would be about this. It's not okay.
  • "You should not do this because it's not attractive." I don't do me for you.
  • "You should not believe this way because I don't like it." Ditto. I don't believe what I do to please others. Remember, your views may not be something I like, either, but you believe it and I respect that.
  • "Actually, you're wrong." If I am, you could be more polite about it. But actually, people say this more often when what I said was not wrong. Like I said, if I'm not sure about something, I say so. I think it annoys me more if I'm actually correct, because then I'm dealing with rudeness and not even learning anything in return.
  • "You need to do this." Maybe I already do. You're assuming that I don't, just because I didn't say it in the video. Please don't tell me what to do. Even if I already do it, someone telling me to makes me not want to! It's the classic rebellion issue.
  • "This is how you do this." Again, you're assuming I don't know how. Word things like this as "This is how I do this" and you'll avoid the negative effects while sharing your valuable information. You may have another, useful way of doing things, but that doesn't mean someone else's way is wrong.
  • "You should ask so-and-so how to do this because they actually know how." Ouch. I think you can figure this one out on your own.
It's a tough thing to deal with, because to some people you really could say "I didn't ask you. Don't tell me." But other people do leave helpful or interesting comments without ever sounding like they're saying you're wrong or telling you what to do. Those latter folks should be given candy or muffins or flowers or puppies or whatever good thing they desire. It is a skill that they may not even know they possess! It's also tough because when you tell someone not to tell you what to do, they can counter with the same thing because you're TELLING them not to tell you what to do... See? Yeah. I would hope most people are mature enough to just not impose their views and beliefs on others, or to realize that doing so is not okay. Unfortunately that's not always the case.

So, okay, you read. You listened. Now I'm asking! What kinds of things do people assume YOU don't know, that really bugs you? How do you personally avoid sounding rude when you want to help people? I was a teaching/writing assistant, so I have specific strategies for commenting on someone's writing without cutting them down. Share some strategies for speaking with people in general that you might use, that others could try out!


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