Be Nice Until It’s Time To Not Be Nice
13 April, 2014

Unsurprisingly given the combat zone of my childhood, I have a strong aversion to conflict. Being an unarmed child around an adult who flies into a murderous rage over the smallest thing trains you to avoid all confrontation. It is literally a survival skill.

But I think that there are strong reasons for people to avoid conflict most of the time. We all live in a world of finite resources, time being the most precious, and perhaps most finite, of all. The mathematics just works out that conflict will eventually arise. One way to avoid the conflict is to increase the resource in question, either by becoming more efficient in its use or by producing more of it.

Another way to avoid conflict is to simply yield to the other person. A fellow with whom I once worked says that the key to a successful marriage is two words: “Yes, dear.” His philosophy is that there is very little that is worth a fight with your partner. Two decades of marriage has borne out his thinking.

I can certainly take that too far and not protect my own interests as much as I ought. It has been a lifelong struggle to speak up sooner and not let it get to the point where I explode. But each and every time I have to enforce my own boundaries, to ensure that I get what I deserve, I am smothered with anxiety.

I literally have no idea how the other person will take it. Normal people have a good (although never perfect) prediction for how the other side in the conflict will respond. I, on the other hand, am surprised every time someone does not fly into a murderous rage.


6 December, 2013

In my experience, the people who loudly proclaim that they are an independent person are just establishing an excuse for their upcoming rudeness. I expect most people would like to avoid being entirely dependent on someone else. As a parent and a pack animal, I understand and am comfortable with others depending on me.

It came as something of a surprise to me when a friend commented that I was an independent person. Over the last two years, I have noticed quite a few cases where my image of myself differs from everyone else’s image of me. In those cases I have been forced to reevaluate myself and change my thinking. So when my friend called me independent, I had no choice but to introspect and determine to what degree that is true.

While never stated explicitly, I learned in my childhood that the best I could expect was indifference; any interest taken in me was rarely benevolent. So it stands to reason that I would have become rather independent: I knew that I was on my own. Of course, as a child I had limited resources and that independence grew in a warped way.

I think that factors into a lot of aspects of who I am. I rarely ask for help not because I arrogantly think I need no help but rather because I am surprised when someone helps me when I ask. My first instinct is to not share what I am feeling because no one else but me cared what I felt. The experience of being an outcast manifests as paranoia and defensiveness. I strive to be strong and capable so that I can control my own destiny.

I have worked hard for decades to create a new family, a new pack, that can depend on me. I am not sure how that reconciles with my newly-discovered independence. I hope to remain polite, though.

Working Hard or Hardly Working
21 July, 2013

One of my coworkers made a statement last week that disturbed me. They opined that there should be no personal talk whatsoever at work and any such should not count toward the eight-hour-per-day minimum. Said coworker further recommended, if someone at work asked about one’s weekend, always responding with “fine” to discourage any followup jibber-jabber. I quite disagree with all that.

Admittedly I was raised in a polite society and in a family of origin where any misstep was severely punished. I would not be surprised if I am more sensitive to interpersonal niceties than the average bloke. (I think there is evidence that I am more sensitive in general.) However, I still hazard that most people would consider someone whose only words to them were to request some service to be at least a cold fish if not something of a dick.

I believe that all good teams have a personal connection between their members. I have no titular authority so my ability to influence others is entirely dependent on the strength of our connection. Of course, doing nothing but prattling and gossiping all day serves neither the team nor the task at hand. My experience shows that, within the context of any given endeavor, the strategic goals are accomplished better and quicker with a good rapport built with the tactical application of personal interaction.

One of my basic tenets is that everyone is a person who deserves to be heard. Life is short and too often ends with little warning. I take professional pride in doing a good job. But I would rather be remembered for how much I cared than how much I worked.

Not So Timid
24 February, 2013

A management course taught one of my coworkers, a big bloke, to stand sideways in someone’s doorway to avoid making them feel trapped and intimidated. (The rule has an informal name based on an executive who is both big and prone to blocking doorways.) I have not paid much attention to my positioning in doorways but I suspect that I avoid blocking them instinctively. It may be something of a cliché, but I am the sort who prefers to sit with my back in a corner and where I can see the exits. I address each room as if I will have to fight my way out of it.

It would be dishonest to say that I do not wish to be intimidating. I do like to be intimidating, but only in certain circumstances. The problem is that I seem to be intimidating when I wish not to be, but not when I wish to be. My eldest referred to me as “Scary Dad” when I was merely being stern. Yet I have had crazy ladies step up on me. While I think of myself as a nice guy and like to be perceived as such by others, I also want people to avoid attacking me.

I recognize the contradiction of those positions. A couple decades of having no one respect my boundaries gave me the instinct to create those boundaries with menace. I did not learn to use my words to enforce my boundaries because my family of origin ignored both my words and my boundaries. Rather I learned that the only way to enforce a boundary was by releasing the beast within. This was quite surprising for others, most of whom both expected me to use my words and had no experience with that level of fury.

My goal is to never need to be actively intimidating. I work hard to not be intimidating, to be sensitive to those as might feel threatened by my size or demeanor. Through years of work, I am learning to use my words and modulate my responses. But, to be honest, if I had to choose between being intimidating but respected and not being intimidating but disrespected, I would choose the respect, even though it came with the intimidation. Apparently I have more work to do.

I Agree Wholeheartedly
24 May, 2011

A fortnight ago my spouse noticed signs on local roads warning that hundreds of cyclists would descend last weekend as part of an organized ride. I have written in the past about my frustration with cyclists who insist on all the privileges of motor vehicles with none of the responsibilities. Apparently Chief Dan Brown of the Amity police department shared my frustration as he instructed his officers to cite any cyclists who failed to obey the traffic laws.

It’s about damn time.

The road on which the warning signs were posted has no posted speed limit. It also has no shoulder, let alone a bike lane, and poor visibility. Even without organized rides it sees too many cyclists, due in part to its inclusion on maps given out at bike shops. A resident has even posted a sign that says “Ride single file”. I consider the fact that there has not been a cyclist fatality on that road a testament to the abilities and character of the motor vehicle drivers.

Farm equipment also uses that road. Even though the tractors travel at much slower speeds than the cyclists, they form less of an impediment. The difference is that the drivers of the tractors keep a steady line, ride as much out of the way as possible, and pull over to let others past. The cyclists swerve all over the lane, routinely ride line abreast instead of line astern, and only pull over when they are tired, regardless of the number of vehicles stacked up behind them. The tractor drivers behave like members of the community who are sharing a resource; the cyclists behave like spoiled children who believe they are entitled to do whatever they want without consequence.

I know several people who are keen cyclists, some of whom ride to and from work. So I know that some cyclists have control of their vehicles, share the road with others, and work hard to keep themselves out of danger. I formerly assumed that most cyclists were like that. But experience has shown me that the good cyclists form a minority. In that I agree wholeheartedly with Chief Brown, who says: “I wish I could say it was just a few riders, but it seems to be the majority of the riders that disregard the traffic laws.”

We’ll Miss You, Crafty
7 January, 2010

Yesterday we found out that a friend of ours died in July. He was young, only five years older than me, and the obituary did not mention a cause of death. We traded Christmas cards and emails but I had not talked to him for probably a decade. The last time we talked I was in a pretty bleak place; I wish that was not the last conversation we ever had.

Happy Trails, Lawman
8 November, 2009

Requiescat in pace, Tony.

That’ll Do, Pup
12 February, 2008

It’s the responsibility of the elder members of the pack to keep the younger members in line. Mostly this can be accomplished with setting a good example and establishing expectations and without resorting to the fang.

This morning on the way to work I was passed by a teal, twenty-year-old Honda Civic two-door hatchback. (Plates available upon request.) Passing other vehicles and getting passed by other vehicles is a fact of life of the road. (George Carlin mentioned “anybody going slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac!”.) I don’t mind so much if the pass is safe and polite.

This maniac wasn’t so much impolite as rampantly unsafe. The average speed on this one-lane-in-each-direction road is 60 mph. Despite the fog that reduced visibility along that stretch to about one hundred yards, the turd passed on the left in the lane of oncoming traffic. So I gave him the finger for his troubles. (Not the scolding (a.k.a. Grandma Moose) finger but the other finger.)

It’s not that I mind if he dies. I mind if he takes someone else with him and I very much mind if that person is me. If another car had been in that lane, one or the other of them could have very well swerved into my lane. His right to be an idiot stops at my health, thank-you-very-much.

By coincidence we took the same route for ten miles. In a bit of an irony, I was directly behind him the whole time: his dangerous driving produced a net gain of fifty feet. I was just taking my normal route to work but chance afforded me the opportunity to give him the stink eye (another item from Grandma Moose’s arsenal) for fifteen minutes.

The latter mile or so is a road less traveled. At that point he began to worry that I was following him to his place of work, presumably to pound on him a bit. Since I was never that angry in the first place and was past the incident, I didn’t realize his concern until he made a sudden left turn (through oncoming traffic) into an industrial parking lot and then quickly looked back to see if I had turned as well. The panicked look on his face set me to laughing. I even saw him in my rear-view mirror inch past the shrubs to check that I had really left.

I never intended to intimidate the dingleberry into changing his behavior. Nor do I think that his momentary fear this morning is sufficient impetus to cause him to drive more safely. But I do know that he pulled a high APF this morning. So I feel like I’ve done my duty as a silverback and maybe helped a youngster reign himself in before getting others or himself harmed.

The Shiner
8 December, 2007

While Christmas shopping the other day my cashier was a cute, red-haired lass … with a massive black eye. You don’t really expect a shiner in the service industry. Maybe at Team Quest, but not at a consumer electronics store.

Not only is it unexpected, but it’s kind of awkward, too. As brawling is more of a male pastime, a gal with a shiner is more likely to be punched than to do the punching. So you’re concerned that she might be the victim of domestic abuse.

On the other hand, her business isn’t really my business. She didn’t whisper a plea for help, slide me a note with the receipt saying she was being held against her will, or even try to communicate only with crazy eyebrows so her captors wouldn’t see. If anything, she seemed like she didn’t want to talk about the black eye.

In the end, I said nothing about the eye. I thought it was the appropriate, polite approach. But maybe I was wrong. I don’t know.

It’s Politeness, not Fitness
5 November, 2007

This morning I got to the exterior door to the building at the same time as a female coworker. Having been raised by Southerners, I held the door and let her go first. We both work on the fourth floor. I take the stairs, not because I feel I ought but because I can. She elected to use the stairs as well.

The interesting thing about stairs is that the standard riser height combined with the standard interpersonal distance places the trailing person about three feet behind and three feet below the leading person. In other words, eyes at ass-level.

Because of this, I leave extra distance between myself and anyone that I think might be uncomfortable with the notion of my eyes directly behind their ass. This is not to say that I would or would not look at said coworker’s ass, merely that it’s a courtesy I extend to those as might appreciate it. Since she was climbing the stairs more slowly than I normally hit the stairs, I had to dawdle a bit to keep my interval.

As we reached the fourth floor, she opened and held the door. I thought she was trying to return the favor from the first floor. That is, until she exhorted, “You can do it!”.

Sorry, sweet cheeks. It’s not that I’m too unfit to climb the stairs any faster. It’s that I’m polite enough to not bury my nose between your ass cheeks on the way up.